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Monster Calendar

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A bestiary of Christmas cruelty and festive foulness

Jacob Milnestein

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The moral rights of Jacob Milnestein to be identified as the Author of this Work have been asserted in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First published by Mysteria Press

This version published by Shakespir

ISBN 9781311894199

 

Copyright © Jacob Milnestein 2008 – 2015

 

[_ _]

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

 

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONTENTS

 

2008

 

NAMAHAGE

CHRISTCHILD

OLENTZERO

The Yule Lads

Jolupukki

Krampus

Zwarte Piet

 

2009

 

Tomte

Jack Frost

Yuki-onna

Snegurochka

The Belsnickel

Gryla

Hibagon

The Snow Queen

Le Pere Fouettard

The Caganer

La Befana

Ded Moroz

Tio de Nadal

Odin

Yaldabaoth

 

2010

 

Reindeer

The Böögg

Baby New Year

Brigid

Sol Invictus

Herod

Mithra

Father Time

Perchta

Tonton Macoute

Moloch

Gabriel

Saturn

Puck

Amaterasu

Chernobog

Guanyin

The Devil

 

2011

 

La Calavera Catrina

Gwyn ap Nudd

The Badalisc

Nián

Rozhanitsa

Barbegazi

Schmutzli

Yukinko

Vetr

The Holly King

Inti

The Singing Fir Tree

Skaði

Cailleach

‘Obby ‘Oss

Kallikantzaroi

Tom Bawcock

The White Hart

 

2012

 

Mammoth

Ullr

Pelzebock

Vogel Gryff

Skiron

Le Père Noël

The Snowshoe Hare

Saule

Louhi

Yamal Iri

Megalodon

Mari Lwyd

Black Annis

Der Leiermann

Wendigo

Neanderthal man

 

2013

 

Julenissen

The Maenads

Yeti

Maximón

Greth Schell

Snow Lion

The Nutcracker

Sabre-toothed Tiger

Straw Bears

Boy Bishop

The Black Tortoise

Hāji Piruz

The Magi

Boreas

Elfs

Samael

The Virgin Mary

 

2014

 

Tammuz

Xuan Wu

Beira

Dire Wolf

Tschäggättä

Gauchito Gil

St. Rupert of Salzburg

The Abbot of Unreason

 

2015

 

St. Anastasia of Sirmium

Gnoph-Keh

Maman Brigitte

Kanbari nyūdō

Faunus

Bei Ji Xian Weng

The Duke of Christmas Daisies

Chione

Nickar

The White Lady

Halubajski zvončari

Chort

Holiday Darth Vader

The Almas

Türst

Lieutenant 70

St. Theophilus the Penitent

LORD Of Misrule

 

[_ _]

 

_The following entries were crafted between December 2008 and this year in an attempt to enliven the traditional office environment of certain unwitting recipients. _

[_ _]

_The idea initially began as a means of chronicling specific festive monsters related to the Christmas season, and later evolved into a means of recording the traditions of various other religions and cultures, some related, others not, to the festival we now enjoy during these cold winter months. _

[_ _]

Hopefully, some of what follows will come in handy, should you ever find yourself confronted with such mythological mischiefs as detailed below.

[] 

2008

 

Namahage

 

The Namahage, hailing from Oga Prefecture in Japan are a specific kind of Oni—traditional Japanese ogres claimed still to live in the wilderness of the countryside—who visit villages between the end of November and the beginning of February, usually around New Year.

 

Moving from door to door and calling out, “Are there any misbehaving children here? Any idle loafers here?”, the Namahage are rambunctious and loud. They can be pacified by the offering of drink and food by parents or other members of the family., yet if they sense an idle child or lazy worker, they swiftly burst into the house and proceed to peel the blisters off feet garnered by those spending too much time stretched out in front of the fire, with hideously large knives and other fierce implements.

 

The solution to avoiding confrontation with them is simply to shun laziness.

 

In many ways, the Namahage are similar to the Finnish Joulupukki – more on him later.

 

Christchild

 

The Christchild is a character from European folklore most prevalent in Germanic, Polish, and Austro-Hungarian areas.

 

Depiction of the child itself varies, although often it takes on a sprightly, androgynous character. Possibly part of an older depiction of a pagan guardian or tutelary spirit of the forest, the Christchild took its current name during the Christianisation of Europe, and later, during the schism with the Catholic Church, became a figure championed by Martin Luther as a Yuletide replacement for the Papist St. Nicholas.

 

In essence, the Chirstchild’s function is much the same as traditions of St. Nicholas or Father Christmas. The spirit—sometimes the infant Christ Himself, as envisioned by Luther, sometimes a cherubic, blonde haired little girl or boy—visits the home of children and leaves rewards for good behaviour in shoes left by the door. In order to further emphasise the relation between the characters of the Christchild and Father Christmas, some variations of the tradition include the idea of them travelling with a hideous companion named Hans Trapp, often a variant of the Krampus.

 

Whilst in Germany the Christchild seems to be interpreted in a number of ways, in Poland they are perceived without question as being canonically a manifestation of Christ.

 

Many cultures have since adopted both the Christchild and the figure of Father Christmas, using them as interchangeable depictions of the festive gift-giver figure, much to the chagrin of certain nationalists.

 

Olentzero

 

Olentzero is a Basque Country character renowned for his cheerful drunkenness and compassion.

 

There are many different stories involving the character, all of which differ from each other but don’t seem to contradict the main details, so it’s easy enough to link up the various traditions.

 

A history of Olentzero might be that, having been born a jentillak—a race of mythical giants reputed to have once lived within the Pyrenees—the character we now know as Olentzero is the last of his kind.

 

Upon the eve of Christ’s birth, a cloud was sighted from the mountains which caused all of the jentillak a great deal of distress as they thought it to be a bad omen. When the wise old man of the tribe confirmed that it was, indeed, a bad sign for them as it represented the impending birth of a human saviour, the giants became increasingly more agitated.

 

Being old and mostly blind, the wise man asked of his people that they carry him to the edge of the cliff and cast him off so he would not have to live to see those he cared for submit to Christianity. The tribe acquiesced and set off for the cliff, save for Olentzero who was too young. Yet unfortunately, whilst carrying the old man, they tripped and stumbled, and all of them toppled from the cliff and were dashed in the valleys below thus signalling the end of the jentillak.

 

After some time, Olentzero was discovered in the lower forest at the foot of the mountains by a fairy that gave him gifts of strength and kindness and arranged for his adoption by a childless couple who lived in the forest.

 

Olentzero then grew to be a healthy Christian man, full of compassion and shying not away from hard labour, but also possessing a fondness for a good drink. His face is usually depicted as smeared with dirt from his work as a charcoal burner and he is a gifted carpenter, like Christ himself, who often delivered presents to poor children on Christmas Eve.

 

He died when rescuing children from a burning house and was thus rewarded eternal life by the fairy so that he may continue to protect children forever more—which would be a lovely note to end this story save for this gentle giant’s schizophrenic behaviour.

 

Despite his kindness and love of children, if they stay up too late on Christmas Eve, Olentzero will descend from the mountains whilst on his rounds to deliver toys and slit their throats.

 

His famous compassion is likewise equally forgotten when dealing with children who have been ill-behaved and unruly.

 

 

[]The Yule Lads

 

Don’t let their name fool you; the Yule Lads are not the kind of house guests you might wish for over the festive season.

 

The progeny of the fearsome ogress, Grýla, the Yule Lads descend upon remote Icelandic villages according to a specific calendar and cause mischief if you’re lucky, and murder if you’re not.

 

Popular myth has it that they number thirteen in total, but a variety of sources claim a far greater number. Either way, it pays not to question the reproductive habits of ogres. In any case, thirteen Yule Lads is certainly more than enough.

 

Each Yule Lad has a specific vice and time of arrival. Wikipedia informs us of the following dates and names:

 

Icelandic Name English translation Description Arrival Departure*]
Stekkjastaur_] Sheep-Cote Clod Harasses sheep, but is impaired by his stiff legs. December 12 December 25
Giljagaur_] Gully Gawk Hides in gullys, waiting for an opportunity to sneak into the cowshed and steal milk. December 13 December 26
Stúfur_] Stubby Abnormally short. Steals pans to eat the crust left on them. December 14 December 27
Þvörusleikir_] Spoon-Licker Steals Þvörur (a type of a wooden spoon with a long handle) to lick. Is extremely thin due to malnutrition. December 15 December 28
Pottaskefill_] Pot-Scraper Steals leftovers from pots. December 16 December 29
Askasleikir_] Bowl-Licker Hides under beds waiting for someone to put down their ‘askur’ (a type of bowl with a lid used instead of dishes), which he then steals. December 17 December 30
Hurðaskellir_] Door-Slammer Likes to slam doors, especially during the night. December 18 December 31
Skyrgámur_] Skyr-Gobbler A Yule Lad with an affinity for skyr. December 19 January 1
Bjúgnakrækir_] Sausage-Swiper Would hide in the rafters and snatch sausages that were being smoked. December 20 January 2
Gluggagægir_] Window-Peeper A voyeur who would look through windows in search of things to steal. December 21 January 3
Gáttaþefur_] Door-Sniffer Has an abnormally large nose and an accute sense of smell which he uses to locate laufabrauð. December 22 January 4
Ketkrókur_] Meat-Hook Uses a hook to steal meat. December 23 January 5
Kertasníkir_] Candle-Beggar Follows children in order to steal their candles (which, in those days, were made of dripping and thus edible). December 24 January 6

 

Together with their fearsome pet, Jólakötturinn, a large black cat who devours all those unfortunate not to have received new clothes for winter, the Yule Lads – and by default their monstrous mother and her cohabitant, Leppalúði – are, like the Namahage, a warning against idleness during the winter season, and a perceived comeuppance for those who have avoided hard work during harvest season.

 

Whilst some of the character traits seem similar to traditional Japanese yokai monsters and many may have grown up from the perceived frustrations and hardships of everyday life—for example, it’s easy to see how Kertasníkir may have been born out of the frustration of misplaced candles—they are truly characters expressive of the hardship of rural life.

 

Of course, if the Yule Lads were somehow to form some kind of pact with the Abura-akago or the Nekomata, both of whom are renowned in parts of Japan for stealing oil from lamps, we’d all be in for a harsh lesson this winter.

 

 

 

 

Joulupukki

 

Joulupukki is a name applied to two distinct characters in Finnish Christmas mythology.

 

The name literally means ‘Yule Goat, and originally depicted a fearsome character, possibly originating in European pagan traditions.

 

During the winter months, the hideous Joulupukki would visit the homes of children, hammering upon their doors with its hooves and demanding gifts and offerings.

 

Over time, this character seemingly underwent a change of heart, becoming a symbol of gift giving rather than taking yet, by the 20th century, the name of Joulupukki seems to have migrated from the original evil spirit in order to be adopted as the Finnish nom-de-plume of Father Christmas.

 

Occasionally, the two characters appear in tandem, but more often than not, when someone speaks of Joulupukki, the idea of a monstrous devil hammering on the door demanding presents is usually not what they are thinking of.

 

Perhaps in some uncharted lands where seasonal monsters retire after their duty is done, Joulupukki is afforded a chance to compare notes with the Japanese Namahage.

 

Or perhaps it is simply waiting for its tradition to revive once more.

 

Echoes of Joulupukki can still be seen in the mythology of the Krampus.

 

 

 

Krampus

 

The Krampus is one of the two perennial Yuletide monsters. Having recently gained a fair amount of recognition outside of Europe, the Krampus remains one of the most iconic characters due to his similarity with the very Devil himself.

 

There are various different myths describing how the Krampus became entangled within the European Christmas myth. It is likely that he, like the original Joulupukki, was part of a pantheon of older gods that once roamed the dark forests of Germany, much as the Green Man once resided in the heart of England’s dreaming.

 

The most familiar myth of the Christian era involving Krampus’s origins however is that he is a devil subdued by St. Nicholas and bound to do his bidding, thus furthering the comparison between Nicholas himself and several other pre-Christian deities.

 

The Krampus is also a useful modern feint in terms of storytelling. It’s hard to portray Father Christmas as caring and Christian when his duty also involves brutal acts of violence against children, yet the Krampus, with his curling goat’s horns and haunting face, is a perfect excuse for vindictiveness and cruelty.

 

When St. Nicholas visits the homes of children on the 6th or 7th December, the Krampus follows after, ready to beat ill-behaved children with switches of bundled sticks or, should the occasion demand it, devour or dismember them—all as dear Father Christmas watches on, his pale face set with a stern expression and his snowy white beard stained with gore.

 

Such is the popularity of this monstrous figure that, like Father Christmas’ elfs or Christ’s apostles, he has, over time, acquired followers in the poor and orphaned children of remote Austrian villages.

 

During the cold winter months when children gifted of a wholesome life are preparing for festivities, the homeless and starving gather like hungry ghosts in the streets, garbed in black rags and faces stained alike to give them something of the countenance of their monstrous inspiration. They are named as Krampusse, and as such they go into the streets dragging lengthy chains which they fling at any child more fortunate than them, causing terrible damage or wounds in the name of that horned master of retribution against childhood.

 

In that kingdom of twilight, populated by the lost of winter and the helpless of heart, the Krampus rules as king, servant only to his own brutal and hideous taste for revenge. 

 

 

 

 

 

Zwarte Piet

 

Zwarte Piet – literally Black Pete – is troublesome in his appearance to a modern day audience. Sometimes portrayed as a devil, sometimes as a Moor, the tradition of Zwarte Piet is oft confused or influenced by traditions involving the Krampus and Knecht Ruprecht.

 

The most popularised myth of Zwarte Piet is that he is a Moor liberated from slavery by St. Nicholas and in service to the saint as a debt of thanks. Every 6th of December, the saint and his helper arrive via steamboat from Spain, and thus the traditional grading of children’s behaviour begins.

 

Zwarte Piet’s manner of dispensing justice to unruly children is much the same as his fellow companions – sometimes he beats them with sticks, sometimes he leaves them coal in disgust with their behaviour, and sometimes he forces them into a bag and drowns them in a river – yet should the child have been significantly ill-behaved, the most horrific punishment is translation into Zwarte Piet himself.

 

I’m not sure what crime is fitting enough to incur such vengeance, but should a child have been so wicked, he or she may find themselves stuffed into the bag and taken away from his or her home, not for drowning, but back to Spain, where, by some magical means, they will become the same as Zwarte Piet in their appearance, and thus be cursed to labour in the saint’s service for the rest of their lives.

 

These Zwarte Pieten, whilst originally introduced by American GIs misinterpreting the concept when trying to restore a sense of festivity to the population of the post-war Netherlands, are something like a more playful Krampusse tradition; yet in terms of folklore, the stakes are dire.

 

What life awaits the child transformed beyond recognition and bound to punish others by the laws that he or she has fallen foul of?

 

Perhaps in these children, their hearts, like the ‘gifts’ they leave, have also turned to coal.

 

 

 

2009

 

Tomte

 

The tomte (also known as nisse or, in Finland, as the tonttu) are a race of fairies or elfs originally deriving from ancient Nordic beliefs in the supernatural, many of whom were placated with sacrifices during ritual ceremonies such as the álfablót and Dísablót.

 

Like the zashiki-warashi, the tomte are familial spirits often thought to bring good fortune to households and farms. Also like the zashiki-warashi, the cost of displeasing the tomte can be disastrous, resulting in the death of livestock as well as financial ruin.

 

Yet for all their malicious potential, the tomte are a childlike race, happy to live amongst humans and often even enriching human homes with their unseen presence. They take joy in the simple pleasures of life and wish for little more than to be left to quietly go about their business.

 

If small offerings are left for them on a regular basis and the family is in good favour, then, should an unforeseen crisis arise, it might be the tomte who intervene on behalf of the family, interceding with the forces of nature to negate a possible tragedy.

 

In recent times, the tomte have become synonymous with those elfs who are often depicted in modern portrayals as assisting Father Christmas, and, in many parts of Europe, the figure of old Christmas himself is said to be a tomte.  

 

There is a possibility that the tomte themselves may be related to the Okinawan koropokkur, another race of diminutive nature spirits thought to enrich or blight the lives of humans around them depending on their treatment.

 

Yet it would seem that, at their core, both the tomte and the koropokkur teach us to respect our surroundings, be their urban or rural, and try to live in harmony with animals and nature rather than taking them for granted. There is a lesson to be learnt here for the wicked.

 

The next time an act of cruelty is perpetrated against animals, it might be embittered spirits related to those Nordic elfs and Okinawan yokai that call the perpetrator to task and exact a terrible revenge.

 

It is unknown at this time whether the principalities documented in The Lesser Key of Solomon can bestow tomte as familiars to capricious magicians.

 

 

 

 

Jack Frost

 

The character of Jack Frost, like modern interpretations of Father Christmas, is a recognisable figure in modern winter iconography.

 

It has been suggested that originally Jack Frost may have derived from the Æsir deity, Ullr, a hunting god worshipped by the Vikings and Anglo-Saxons, but the connexion is hard to see. It is more likely however that Jack arrived amongst us as more of a personification of a specific type of character, ala Robin Goodfellow, than as an individual deity due homage from worshippers.

 

With his sprightly appearance and mischievous nature, it is hard not to see Jack Frost in the tradition of the Elizabethan faeries and spirits depicted in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Spenser’s The Faerie Queen. It is also likely that, whilst remaining distinct from the gods, Jack may have some thematic links with the traditions regarding the Nordic elfs.

 

Like the Eastern European and Russian figure, Grandfather Frost, Jack possesses some elemental control over the weather. Though he is bound to a schedule, it is he who leaves intricate patterns upon windowpanes and turns the dry grass white with frost on cold winter days. The distinction between these two figures is that whilst Grandfather Frost is a benevolent figure who often takes the place of Father Christmas in the winter festivals of many European nations, Jack Frost is carefree, and, at times, malevolent.

 

He is a figure not to be taken too lightly, and, as such, any bargain made with him may well have disastrous consequences for any mortal parties foolish enough to do so.

 

Despite this, he is not a principality in himself but a childlike figure drunk with excitement at having received his first position of merit.

 

Had Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius ventured into those moonlit woods at a later date, then perhaps they might have found Oberon arrayed in the armour of his role as the Holly King, with Jack Frost in attendance rather than the apish Puck.

 

Upon midwinter mornings, when the ground beneath your feet is as white as the clouds crowding the grey skies, keep your eyes open for the movements of a mischievous figure dressed in ice and frost, his feet carrying him merrily amongst the graves of silent churchyards.

 

 

 

 

Yuki-onna

 

Yuki-onna, though you might not know her by name, is already a figure with whom you are acquainted. You might think this assumption mistaken, yet though her surroundings may be different, you will recognise the familiarity and comparison with another figure of Japanese popular culture.

 

As the static on an aged video cassette resolves into an image of a well, and, from that well, as you see the first glimpses of long, pale fingers curling about shattered stone, and lank hair the colour of raven feathers, you will know that in the famous image to which you are witness there is the suggestion of a far older curse.

 

Let us not forget that the ‘yama’ in Yamamura means mountains.

 

Like other spectres of winter mythology, Yuki-onna is a force of nature, the billowing winds and endless snow of desolate mountains given the form of a beautiful woman in a white kimono.

 

There are numerous stories concerning her vindictive nature, tales in which she lures travellers to their doom or burdens them with a wailing, phantom child that freezes them to the spot moments before an avalanche. In some stories, she even journeys from the mountains and into human settlements, blowing open the doors of houses and casting homes into ruin.

 

Yet whilst she cannot be understood in human terms, it is obvious that she is not without mercy. She has been known to spare children, and even, albeit in disguise, to fall in love with mortals and marry.

 

She is a figure to be respected as much as she is to be feared, and though our world may have changed in recent centuries due to technology and climate change, the lesson the Yuki-onna has to teach us of caution towards the unpredictable weather of winter is still as valid now as it was centuries ago.

 

 

 

 

Snegurochka

 

Unlike the Yuki-onna, Snegurochka is a more benevolent representation of winter. Made popular in numerous adaptations on the Russian stage, Snegurochka is nowadays often depicted as the granddaughter of Ded Moroz, the Eastern European Grandfather Frost, whose role is synonymous with that of Father Christmas.

 

Like Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, Snegurochka’s tale involves a being outside of human culture yearning for the chance to partake in what she sees, no matter how ephemeral the opportunity may be nor the consequences she will be forced to endure once the bargain is made.

 

In many tales she is the daughter of Spring and Frost, who themselves are related by thematic principles to the Norse Sumarr and Vetr. In other stories, she is a girl fashioned via artificial means, like Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, or a fairy child granted as a gift to an elderly couple by outside forces, like the tale of Momotarou, the boy born of a giant peach.

 

Yet unlike Pinocchio’s eventual triumphant transubstantiation or Momotarou’s victory over the oni of Onigashima, Snegurochka is fated to a more tragic end.

 

In her desire to be fully human, her story concludes in one of two ways. The most popular tales depict her forgetting the frail substance from which her body is made of, and, upon being invited by other little girls, joining in a traditional Saint John’s Day game of leaping over a small fire, or by falling in love with a human boy. Both outcomes result in the loss of her supernatural powers, her body disintegrating in vapour above the flames, or simply stopping once her heart registers the intensity of the emotion.

 

Yet in some versions of the tale, her love does transform her into a human girl. It is an event without the triumph with which Pinocchio becomes human, but rather it is an understanding that, like the figurehead of the Christian religion, she has taken on the human condition with all of its flaws and inherent mortality.

 

She is like the Trojan warrior, Glaucus, swapping golden armour of immortality for the bronze armour of humanity.

 

Another comparative myth perhaps is the story of Urikohime, who, having been born from a melon and raised, like Momotarou, by an elderly couple, is eventually tricked and eaten by the evil spirit, Amanojaku.

 

Snegurochka is one of folklore’s many tragedies, her role designed possibly to warn us that sometimes the grass is not greener on the other side.

 

 

 

 

The Belsnickel

 

The Belsnickel is a curious fusion of traditions, a creature somewhere in-between the pious charity of St. Nicholas and the vengeful retribution of his companion, the Krampus.

 

Originating first in Europe and then finding his place in the American colony of Pennsylvania, founded originally by Hertfordshire Quaker, William Penn, the Belsnickel is credited as having been introduced to English speakers by German and Dutch settlers.

 

Like St. Nicholas, the Belsnickel is said to deliver gifts to the poor on 6th December, leaving sweets and chocolate in the empty socks and shoes of children, as per the European tradition. Yet if children have been bad, the hoary old Belsnickel will leave a lump of coal or a switch of entwined branches as a warning of what fate awaits the child should they persist in their bad behaviour.

 

Unlike St. Nicholas, and perhaps reflecting the traditions of the tomte, the Belsnickel lends itself to portrayal in numerous ways. In the same way that the traditions of the Joulupukki have fused with traditional expectations of Father Christmas, the Belsnickel may sometimes be portrayed as conflicting genders, having occasionally been depicted as a thin, serious woman carrying upon her shoulder the traditional requirements of sack and switches. They also appear, somewhat unusually and again harking back to Joulupukki, in animal guises or as a horned version of Father Christmas himself.

 

Perhaps, by not knowing their true face, the Belsnickel has retained something of the mystery that dear old Father Christmas seems to have lost in his appropriation as a symbol of corporate relations. The Belsnickel is a beast that may appear as all things to all people, a devil to wayward children and a portly saint to those who have been well behaved.

 

We can only guess as to what features truly lay behind the myriad masques the Belsnickel chuses to wear in our presence.

 

 

 

 

Hibagon

 

Hibagon, also known as Hinagon, is a wild creature who inhabits the mountainous regions of Hiroshima Prefecture in Japan, his appearance seemingly offering a claim to a link with human beings.

 

Like other wild men of the yeti genus, Hibagon is thought to have a simian-like appearance, being coated head to toe in black fur and being roughly five feet in height. His hands and feet reveal a white complexion beneath his fur, suggesting almost that his colour scheme is an inversion of the more commonly known Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas.

 

Hibagon’s native area is around Mount Hiba, and, at one point, he was thought to have been a deserter from the Imperial Japanese army, flesh ravaged by the atomic fallout of the bombing of Hiroshima.

 

Yet despite this modern tale, Hibagon seems much older than the 20th century, his manner and nature being more akin to the medieval English woodwose or the Chinese yěrén. It is even possible to relate Hibagon to several other Japanese yokai, the red-pelted, sake drinking shōjō, and the mischievous, mountain dwelling yama-chichi.

 

Like all tales of yeti, an encounter with such a creature can sometimes indicate good fortune. Although many may think themselves fortuitous simply to have survived an encounter with such a creature, it should be noted that all yeti, from the yěrén to the Scottish Am Fear Liath Mòr of Ben MacDhui, are possibly reflections of our pre-history.

 

Perhaps on Mount Hiba, just as on Ben MacDhui and in the Himalayas, there is evidence of the life we all used to lead before travelling down those ancient mountains in the thawing snow of a previous age.

 

Though we may not wish to admit it, perhaps all yetis are closer to human than we might at first suspect.

 

 

 

 

Grýla

 

The giantess Grýla is a monstrous figure in Icelandic folklore, her character harkening back to the mother of Grendel in Beowulf, as well as to countless other archetypes, both pagan and Christian.

 

The initial iteration of her story is lost to us, though it is likely that she has some connexion with the Nordic Jötunn, those giants are destined to join with other elemental races to lay siege to the realm of the gods during the time of Ragnarök.

 

Current tales depict her as the mother of the mischievous and often malicious Yule Lads, and go on to reveal her dwelling as a cave in the mountains, where she lives with her third husband, the giant, Leppalúði, her evil children, and her monstrous black cat.

 

Whilst the entire family is known for its antagonism of children, Grýla in particular is famed for her appetite for badly behaved children. It is said that during the Christmas period, she sets off from her cave and travels into towns and villages in search of those who have been bad, and, like the Namahage who come banging at the doors of towns in Oga Prefecture, will make a meal of any lazy or quarrelsome child unfortunate enough to cross her path.

 

It is worth noting that, according to the ever-informative Wikipedia, a public decree was made in 1746 that banned the use of Grýla and her monstrous family as a method of scaring children into behaving.

 

Considering tales of Grýla are still popular in Icelandic culture even now, we can only assume that, whilst parents may have been momentarily silenced, the giantess herself was not.

 

 

 

 

Odin

 

The bearded, slightly hunched figure of Odin appears as cognate in countless European myths; as Wōden in Anglo-Saxon mythology, Wotan in German legend, Mercury in Tacitus’s histories, Lugus in Celtic tradition and, most importantly, as Father Christmas in our current collective tradition.

 

During the Christianisation of Germany, Odin also acquired the guise of Saint Michael, his manner and attributes conflated with that of the Hebrew archangel.

 

Speculated to be a refugee of Troy, much like the first monarch of London, Brutus, Odin is the all father of the Æsir, a secondary tier of gods who surpassed and later supplanted the native Vanir.

 

During the winter months, Odin, in his role as both death god and god of war, would lead fallen warriors out upon a wild hunt through the skies. Children were encouraged to leave boots filled with straw or carrots and sugar out for the horses of the hunt, in particular Odin’s eight-legged steed, the mighty horse Sleipnir. This kindness was rewarded by gifts of sweet foods and presents left as payment for Sleipnir’s sustenance.

 

In Germany, Father Christmas is still depicted as riding a horse rather than the more commonly known reindeer of popular English language folklore.

 

This Christmas, when eagerly awaiting the arrival of that familiar figure on the rooftops of houses and amongst the branches of fir trees, take a moment to listen carefully to the sound of movement in the skies above. That galloping you hear may not be the hooves of reindeer, but instead might just be the pounding of Sleipnir’s eight legs as they carry Odin through the skies in pursuit of his prey.

 

 

 

 

 

The Snow Queen

 

The Snow Queen is one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most enduring characters, the regal antagonist of a self-titled fairy story that has been popular since its first publication in 1845.

 

Like Eve before her, the Snow Queen is responsible for diffusing knowledge of right and wrong throughout the world by value of her dealings with Satan. It is the manner in which she makes use of a magic mirror, fashioned by a troll (who, in the original is indeed ‘the devil himself,’ but in many translations is simply taken at face value) that fragments and sows dissent and despair in the hearts of people.

 

The mirror was dropped from Heaven when the devil attempted to use it to mock both God and the angels, and from there it shatters upon the surface of the world. This theme finds its parallel in Gnostic philosophy, not, as might have been the intention, as a comparison with original sin, but in the idea that the further matter emanates from the source of creation, the more degraded and corrupted it becomes.

 

In Hans Christian Andersen’s story, the Queen of Spitsbergen takes advantage of the devil’s mirror by abducting a young boy whose eyes and heart have become scarred by its shards. There is another parallel with Christian fable in this, this time with the later conceived characters of the White Witch and the boy Edmund in C.S. Lewis’ overbearingly moralistic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

 

Whilst it is easy to think of the Snow Queen as a cruel and expansionist monarch, who, like the devil, attempts to increase the boundaries of her nation one soul at a time, it has to be mentioned that her character is not necessarily evil once understood, but rather, indifferent. She cares not for the customs and niceties of human social interaction, and in her ambivalence is perhaps an echo of a far older deity.

 

She may well be Diana, enthroned upon the rise and flow of the lunar tides, or Odin, served by the crows and ravens of fields and towns.

 

As a culture, we have learnt not to judge other societies based upon our own sense of propriety. Likewise, the laws of the Snow Queen, and, by comparison the fires and ice of Hell and the principality of the devil, are not landscapes that we should judge for being different from our own.

 

 

 

 

Le Père Fouettard

 

Le Père Fouettard is one of three central companions of St. Nicholas in European tradition, his appearance and story often overlapping with that of both Knecht Ruprecht and Zwarte Piet.

 

Like the Krampus, he is sometimes depicted as having goat legs, and, like Zwarte Piet, he is sometimes shown as being of African descent or, in more recent times, as having a face smeared by soot. Yet the defining and unique characteristics of Père Fouettard are found in the story of his origin.

 

Père Fouettard is claimed to have been the murderer of three children. The first story, again according to the ever-useful Wikipedia, is said to have appeared in 1150, and depicts Fouettard as a butcher and/or innkeeper, who, along with his deviant wife, drugs and kidnaps three children on their way to enrolment in a wealthy, religious academy. He then slits their throats, and either cuts up their flesh, to be kept in a barrel and eaten later, or throws the remains, wrapped in sackcloth, in a river.

 

St. Nicholas uncovers Fouettard’s crimes and resurrects the children. At this, the butcher is compelled, repentant or not, to enter into servitude, travelling with the saint and flogging ill-behaved children with his whip. Of Fouettard’s wife, we do not hear again, though given the rigidity of medieval theology, we can assume some form of damnation was assigned her.

 

From this point on, le Père Fouettard continues to travel with St. Nicholas, standing stoically still at the older man’s side when children have been well-behaved, yet given free rein to punish bad children in whatever brutal and oft fatal fashion he may see fit. Whilst the saint appears to have reversed the fortunes of Fouettard’s first three victims, no such rule seems to apply to those that follow after.

 

The message in Fouettard’s story is at the very heart of the Christian faith and medieval morality; the wages of sin are death. It is no wonder then that Fouettard’s character is mostly found in countries with a strong Catholic heritage.

 

 

 

 

The Caganer

 

The Caganer is an irreverent yet well-loved aspect of many Catalan nativity scenes.

 

Sometimes posing in the guise of famous celebrities, the Caganer is more often depicted as a young boy wearing the traditional red hat of Catalan peasants, his trowsers lowered to reveal his backside and his expression one of surprise. There is no polite way to explain the fact that the Caganer is a figure of a young boy caught in the act of defecating at the very moment of Christ’s birth.

 

The reason for this figure’s presence amongst a scene traditionally depicting one of the most sacred events of the Christian faith is two-fold; firstly, he is an aspect of the playful humour of the traditional working classes, an example of that which 19th century prudishness attempted to remove from cultural traditions. Secondly, he is a reminder that in Christian eschatology, Christ’s return will be sudden and without warning. The Caganer is a lesson that if you are unprepared, literally, if you are caught with your trowsers down, then you will miss the glory of the rapture.

 

Whilst in recent years there have been attempts to remove the Caganer from the nativity scene, he still remains a popular aspect of the Christmas tradition and can be seen not only in Catalonia, but also in other parts of Spain and as far afield as France and Germany.  

 

When next mumbling your way through Christmas carols and making especial mention of magi, shepherds, lowing oxen, and little donkeys, make sure you try to remember that other figure of the nativity scene, and spare a thought for the Caganer’s regretful surprise.

 

 

 

 

La Befana

 

At first glance, catching sight of La Befana as she ventures forth under cover of night upon her broomstick, you might be forgiven for thinking her a witch. Apparently, however, this is not the case, though almost certainly the imagery that surrounds this Italian gift-giver stems in some respect from that traditionally associated with witchcraft.

 

She is renowned for her housekeeping and cheerful nature, a merry old lady who visits children on the 6th January and leaves gifts of small toys and sweets for well-behaved children, and coal for those who have been ill-behaved. In keeping with her reputation, she may even use her broom to sweep the kitchen of the house before setting off once more upon her way.

 

Christian folklore suggests two separate origins for La Befana’s curious behaviour. Firstly, she is said to have been the host of the three magi as they journeyed to see the infant Jesus. Having decided, after they had departed that she too would like to attend the young child, she set out on her broomstick to offer her own adoration, and, on the way, deliver presents to other children.

 

The second story depicts her as a mother touched by tragedy. Unable to come to terms with the death of her child, she journeys to Bethlehem to meet with the young Jesus and offer him the gifts she had wished to give her own child. The baby Jesus in return offers his own gift, and makes La Befana the mother of every child in Italy, charging her with caring for them as she would her own child.

 

In truth though, it seems that La Befana is much older than both these stories, and even older than Epiphany itself. Her origins can be traced back to the Roman fertility and agricultural goddess, Strenia and possibly even further back to Neolithic customs where an old woman was burnt at the end of each year as a sacrifice to the New Year. This burning, along with the aspect and dress of La Befana, is mirrored further in the persecution of witchcraft in medieval Europe, and the manner in which Christianity was responsible for creating the popular image of witches.

 

There is an excerpt from the work of an unknown author on Wikipedia detailing a thoughtful reflection on the appearance of this image which I’m now going to quote an aspect of:

 

The jeering crowds viewed the results of hours of torture. The face, bruised and broken by countless blows, bore a hue of sickly green. The once warm and loving smile gone. Replaced by a grimace of broken teeth and torn gums that leers beneath a battered, disfigured nose. The dishevelled hair conceals bleeding gaps of torn scalp from whence cruel hands had torn away the lovely tresses. Broken, twisted hands clutched the wagon for support. Fractured fingers locked like groping claws to steady her broken body. All semblance of humanity gone. This now was truly a demon, a supplied bride of Satan, a proclaimed witch.

 

In this respect, we should be thankful that whilst the pervasive influence of Christianity has reshaped older traditions into tools of evil, there are still characters present in our shared folklore such as La Befana, who, despite sharing these same characteristics, are still perceived as good.

 

Perhaps then, we are in debt to La Befana, not only for the treats she brings to children during Epiphany, but also for preserving an image far older than the cruelty of Christian propaganda.

 

 

 

 

 

Ded Moroz

 

Ded Moroz is traditionally the Russian figurehead of winter, a hermit who brings with him the bitter chill of seasonal change and ushers in the New Year.

 

During the Soviet reign over Russia’s satellite neighbours, Ded Moroz was introduced in many countries that historically had no traditions featuring him in an attempt to stamp out perceived religious indulgences centred on St. Nicholas.

 

Whilst many countries in which he was artificially introduced into later rejected him following the fall of the USSR, Ded Moroz remains a popular figure in Russia.

 

Like Father Christmas, he is depicted as an old man with a trailing white beard, and, like Odin, he often is shown leaning upon a gnarled wooden staff. It is likely that his heritage is similar to that of Odin’s, certainly he is a figure that predates the Christian midwinter celebrations, however it wasn’t until the 19th century that he became widely accepted as a figure of winter and New Year festivities.

 

It is said that he delivers gifts to children during this period, often arriving at New Year’s parties to hand out presents or discreetly leave them under the New Year tree whilst younger children slumber. More often than not, his granddaughter, Snegurochka accompanies him, her own distinct traditions having become entwined with his.

 

Like Jack Frost and the hypothetical belief system surrounding the Holly King of Pagan lore, Ded Moroz is a personification of the colder months, his role signifying not only the change in weather but also the passing of time.

 

Whilst romanticised 19th century fiction has made him more popular than he was previously, there is no denying that Ded Moroz deserves his place in folklore as an avatar of the same presence we have glimpsed through frost-covered branches since Neolithic times. It may be tempting to forget when curled up by the fire, but perhaps the figure of Ded Moroz is but the current face of winter, a character we have seen dressed in many guises through the endless changing of seasons.

 

Perhaps our cultural recollection and worship of Vetr, of Wotan, of Odin and countless other nameless deities is present in the way Ded Moroz visits homes and hearths during the New Year.

 

In many ways, despite the light of that star that shone over Bethlehem, it seems the old seasonal traditions never went away.

 

 

 

 

Tió de Nadal

 

The Tió de Nadal has echoes in other European traditions, though his association with excrement is not explicitly stated in any other culture aside from that of Catalan tradition.

 

Whilst not a monster per se, the Tió de Nadal is a festive character worthy of mention if only because of the manner in which he relates to that other famous Catalan defecator, the Caganer.

 

Meaning ‘Christmas Log’, the Tió de Nadal employs much of the same symbolism used for other Yule Logs, save for his ability to provide gifts. It is this aspect, and the fact that he is actually a log of wood rather than a cake, that makes the Tió de Nadal so unique.

 

Like the Caganer, he also often wears the traditional red hat of Catalan peasants. It is a custom when the Tió appears on the 8th December during the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, to cover him with a blanket and offer him a little bit to eat before bed. Upon waking, children will find that the Tió has expelled a present for them whilst digesting his food.

 

On Christmas Day, it is a tradition to hit him on the back with a stick to make him excrete further presents, until, having exhausted what gifts he has been keeping in his bowels, the Tió de Nadal will finally offer up a salt herring, garlic or onion to sign that he has nothing more to give.

 

When selecting your Yule Log for the festive season, why not take a moment to think of the happy Caga Tió, and how much more he has to offer than the more familiar chocolate log.

 

 

 

 

Yaldabaoth

 

Yaldabaoth is, in many ways, the definitive festive monster, despite not being associated traditionally with Christmas.

 

As the corrupt and malignant creator of matter in Gnostic lore, the blind, raging god is responsible for the suffering and slavish imprisonment of souls in the material world. The planet, fashioned out of crude matter by the monster’s attendant Archons, is a prison for souls infused with the light that emanates from the true and unknowable god who resides high above Yaldabaoth’s heaven.

 

Traditionally associated with the Judeo-Christian deity, Yaldabaoth’s undoing began with the descent of the Christ spirit from the world above, and His assumption of the appearance of man.

 

Through Christ’s ‘birth’ and his illusion of human form, came the effusion of gnosis, of understanding, that allowed those receptive to such secret wisdom to comprehend the structure of the world and free themselves of the creator god’s yoke.

 

As absurd as it might seem, without Yaldabaoth, in Gnostic philosophy there would be no need for a divine messenger to awaken humanity to its own heritage, and thus no Christmas. So whilst, at surface value, the insane, raving god of an ancient subset of Christianity long since stamped out as heresy by the early Church fathers might not seem connected to the Christmas myth, in actual fact Yaldabaoth is the most significant reason for Christian Gnostics to celebrate Christmas.

 

Without Yaldabaoth’s indiscriminate cruelty and arrogance in fashioning the world, there would be no need for Christ to have emanated from the divine source and dress himself in the manner of mortal man.

 

 

 

 

2010

[* *]

 

Reindeer

 

The beast lifted its head with a snort, its hoofed feet raking at the snow before it as its antlers came level with his chest, and, again, he was impressed by the animal’s stature. Not solely a lowly pack animal this. Unlike the common horse or llama, the reindeer seemed fiercely wilful—[defiant even. Unbroken. He reached out a hand to brush its coarse fur, and again, the beast snorted and turned away.
__
__]The reindeer, far from being regarded solely as the steed of Father Christmas, is traditionally associated with the Sámi peoples of Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

Generally thought of as a pack and meat animal, the reindeer evolved during the harsh climatic changes of the Pleistocene era, an epoch marked by the continual buffering of El Niño-like weather conditions. This fact would perhaps at first seem insignificant to an entry on the reindeer’s role in festive mythology, yet it is important to note that El Niño is Spanish for ‘the boy,’ and colloquially refers to the infant Christ.

During the Pleistocene era, as the ice faded and the soil warmed, the reindeer would first have encountered several of the more enduring of human cultures – our own ancestors, as well as Neanderthal man and our common descendants, the hunter-gathering homo-erectus. At the same time, wild horses were first tamed by man in order to provide, like the reindeer, meat and transport. It is thus telling that the Sámi people regarded the horse as a profane animal, and, upon first contact with the Norsemen, were alarmed to see them riding in upon fierce horses.

The reindeer first entered Christmas tradition with Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, where they are detailed as pulling the saint’s sleigh, and named as Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder, and Blixem. Popular culture later appended Rudolph to the group following the release of Robert L. May’s 1939 story, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.

It is interesting to note that, prior to this St. Nicholas was popularly depicted as riding on a horse, much like the Norsemen who first made such a dramatic impression on the Sámi people.

The various shaman of the Sámi were known as Noaide, and it was their role to not only care and tend for the herds of domesticated reindeer that played such an important part in Sámi culture, but also to mediate between this world and the next. It should come as no surprise then, that in the afterlife of the Sámi, we encounter not only animal spirits, but also deities with the characteristics of reindeer, such as Meandash.

White reindeer and other albino and pale animals were also highly regarded in Sámi religion, providing a thematic link with the white hart traditionally associated with Herne the Hunter in English folklore.

Today, the reindeer is mostly found in parts of Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Norway, as well as in Canada and the United States, but during the Pleistocene era it was found in such diverse places as Spain and China. Had not certain factions of humans tamed the wild horses around them, and, by doing so, established a long-standing rivalry between those cultures who favoured reindeer and those who favoured horses, then our own chivalrous myths might have been very different.

[* *]

 

 

The Böögg

 

Flames consumed the body, falsified flesh rupturing as the gunpowder within ignited and the packed snow exploded outwards in a flurry of blistering heat and ash. From his place amidst the crowd, the observer watched without compassion. He had seen such figures burnt on countless occasions for countless political motives—[yet to see such a creature engorged by flames in order to predict the weather of the changing season… simply left him cold.
__
__]The Böögg is a seasonal character who, like the ‘Obby ‘Oss of Cornish mayday festivities or the related characters of the Jamaican Jonkanoo, resides at the centre of spectacle and parade. The tradition of the Böögg differs however, in that unlike these characters, he is not the centre of revelry and jest, but rather an effigy to be ignited in flame. Much like the Jack o’ Lent of Nickanan Night, or the poorly dressed representations of Guido Fawkes, the Böögg burns as a prisoner of the flame, not a role acted out within the festival.

This tradition is echoed within the Scandinavian burning of the Julbocken, in that both seem connected to an older tradition of sacrifice, a tradition possibly best known in modern times thanks to the image of the incarcerated Edward Woodward in Hammer Horror’s 1973 film, The Wicker Man.

The Böögg is different however, in that he burns not to appease the gods, but rather to predict the future.

Fashioned from snow and filled with fireworks, the Böögg – and his feminine cognate, Böllima – was originally a monster designed to scare children into obedience. During the formation of the Swiss Sechseläuten festival, the Böögg appeared at first in much the same way as the ‘Obby ‘Oss, or the Japanese Namahage, portrayed by excitable adults filled with carnival spirit. It was only as times changed that the Böögg began to take on the appearance of a more traditional snowman, a transformation that led him from the streets of Zürich to the inflammatory funeral pyres of the Sechseläuten.

It is said that if the Böögg’s head is quick to explode, then the coming summer will be warm and balmy. If the process through which the Böögg ignites and finally explodes is slow and drawn out however, then summer will be rain swept and marked by showers.

Yet amidst the humour of the Böögg’s apparent immobility, and his role bound to the pyre, it is important to remember that amongst the crowd, watching such symbolic burnings, a much older race of Böögg may still stand shoulder-to-shoulder with men and women, faces hidden by hoods.

Simply because the symbol is burnt, we must not assume that the genuine artefact is pacified.

Those wishing to sacrifice their own symbolic monster in exchange for tidings of a warm summer were also recently offered a chance to destroy their own variation of the Böögg by the ethical cosmetic retailer LUSH.

 

[* *]

 

 

Baby New Year

 

[He held the babe in his arms, its stink like that of soil and milk, its flesh soft like the tender parts of a carved beast. Their eyes met, and the child smiled up with boneless gums, sending a shudder of disgust through him. For a moment he thought about turning the smiling infant away from him, dashing its brains out and thus aborting the entire potential of the coming year, yet still the child continued to smile… and still he cradled it in his arms.
__
__]Like the Christchild, Baby New Year is the personification of innocence, a chance to begin again. Whilst the Christchild is obviously the infant Jesus, who, in Christian dogma, died upon the cross so that humanity might be redeemed from sin, Baby New Year represents the possibility of starting afresh with New Year’s Day; a chance to make resolutions. This type of ritual is echoed across the world; however, it was in 19th century America that the notion of the New Year as a guileless infant first emerged.

The figure of Baby New Year can be seen as part of a trend of the increasing secularisation of Christmas, with Christ himself supplanted by a second, non-denominational infant. Yet it is important to remember the context of Baby New Year’s introduction. America has long since been a morass of cultures in which various concepts are drawn in alongside unrelated others and reproduced with new symbolic meaning. To see the concept of a Baby New Year introduced as a counterpoint to Old Father Time is not out of step with Christian belief; both the notion of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem and his crucifixion on Golgotha, and the notion of Baby New Year taking over duties for the year from Old Father Time are related in that they both tell stories of agencies above intervening on our behalf. They are both stories that suggest that, for all our faults, we deserve a second chance.

This parallel only becomes difficult for us when we reminded ourselves that much of Old Father Time’s symbolism is derived from the Roman god, Saturn, whose feast was also traditionally in December; the celebration of Saturnalia, which some historians believe was eventually translated into the modern Christmas via the early Catholic church tradition of establishing Christian festivals to replace older pagan festivals and translating local gods into saints and devils.

Saturn was, of course, famous for eating his children.

The concept of the old year devouring the new, of a decade of eves without a New Year, is indeed a fate worse than death. It is a denial of redemption, a binding between the sinner and the sin. In many ways, it is damnation.

Thus it is that we approach the Baby New Year with a sensation of relief and joy, safe in the knowledge that what is of the past, remains in the past.

 

 

 

 

 

Brigid

[* *]

Immediately, the heavens were opened and the world was shaken. Despite himself, he was afraid, his body trembling, as, in the light, he saw the form of a woman, at one moment beautiful, and the next horrific. He tried to avert his gaze, to turn his face away, yet the light was everywhere, inescapable. At once, the form of the woman shifted once more, transformed from the visage of a child to an elderly hag, and at last to the suggestion of a maid. With sudden fear, the observer realised that the light was not light alone—[but _]fire[._]

 

When first we hear of her, [*Brigid *]is depicted as a goddess, a daughter of the patriarchal Dagda within the pantheon of the proto-Celtic Irish faith. In England, she was known as Brigantia, and, as such, was associated with both Minerva and Victoria by the Romano-British. Because of this, the realm of Brigid was all things considered to be of a higher calling—from the arts to the construction of hilltop fortresses and towers, and, especially, the art of blacksmithing.

 

The goddess was considered a patron of that which somehow transcended the crudity of reality. In this we see an echo of the role Sophia plays in Gnostic myth.

 

Yet despite the loftiness of Brigid’s arts, she was often also thought of as a goddess of house and hearth, a protector of the home. It was this role that led to her association with fire, and more importantly, to the notion of a sacred flame that must be protected at all costs. This is again echoed, at least symbolically, by Gnostic belief. Yet for Brigid, it led to her transformation from a pagan goddess to a Christian saint.

 

The festival of Imbolc, celebrated in Brigid’s honour on the 1st and 2nd of February gave way to Candlemas and the Feast of St. Brigid. It was this festival that marked the division between Christmas and epiphany in the old calendar and the celebration of Christ’s presentation in the temple.

 

Whilst the Gaelic deity was renowned, like the Perchta, for encompassing both great beauty and horrific ugliness, St. Brigid of Kildare became an abbess of both beauty and patience. It is possible that the mortal Brigid, having once been a priestess of the deity’s order, was converted to Christianity by the evangelism of St. Patrick. It is likewise possible that such a change in faith was not a true change in routine for the priestess, and, where once the immortal flame had been kept for her namesake, now her order was re-dedicated so as to preserve the flame for Christ. The analogy with Christian symbolic flames and the presence of the Holy Ghost makes this a strong possibility.

 

Yet the suggestion of ritual replaced by ritual, whilst the most realistic, is far from being the most romantic.

 

Again, in a parallel with the Gnostic depiction of the relationship between Christ and Sophia and the syzygy of higher deities, is it not more fitting to see Brigid as a goddess with conflicting roles, returning to Earth in the flesh of woman in order to preserve a symbolic flame of wisdom and knowledge that may be passed down through the generations?

 

In this interpretation, Brigid becomes not only Christ, but also Azazel, the first fallen of Hebrew mythology and the mentor of humankind.

 

Through the Serpent in the Garden we gain freedom of knowledge; through Azazel (again like Brigid) we gain an understanding of blacksmithing; through Christ we gain the message of the true universe beyond the creator, and through Brigid we gain poetry and the value of our family.

 

In his second letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul asks, “and what concord hath Christ with Belial?”

 

The answer would appear to be in the story of Brigid, the goddess and the saint, and her parallels with figures oft regarded as heretical or daemonic.

 

 

 

[] 

Sol Invictus

 

[The light overwhelmed him, burning his shadow into the immaculate snow below as he threw his arms up to protect his face and fled. The realm of the gods, the cradle of the heavens and all the brilliant illumination within were not for man to gaze upon. It was impossible for a man, fashioned from clay and sand, blood clot and excrement, to understand the burning intensity of that other realm and the being that cast His radiance through each and every stratum. It was not a world of matter, not even a world of fire as he had encountered before. Rather, it was a world of pure light.
__
__]It is perhaps easiest if we consider Sol Invictus to be the title of a deity, rather than the name of one.

Since 354 AD, there has been a festival held on 25th December in celebration of light. This festival, named Natalis Invicti (“the birthday of the Invincible One”), is often assumed to be in relation to the deity titled Sol Invictus. There is no concrete historical evidence of this, but it is an assumption on behalf of many – including Christian apologists and the 5th century Pope Leo I – that this festival was in relation to a Roman solar deity. In replacing the festival of the sun with the festival of the son, the assumption of the expansionist church during the centuries following Christ’s death was that disruption to the life of peasants could be avoided. The only difference in life was the religious framework upon which the festivals of the calendar hung.

In this way, Christ became Sol Invictus himself.

Certainly this belief, if not admitted, appears to be one held by the ‘first Christian emperor’, Constantine, who Christian myth affords the dubious acclaim of being the initial Roman emperor to be converted to the new faith. Whilst Constantine never proclaimed himself a Christian during his lifetime, there is an enduring fable about his deathbed conversion. This may or may not be true, but what we do know is that Constantine – a man whose coinage was marked with a Christ-like Sol Invinctus – saved many Christians from death and ensured them the chance to practice their faith free from previous persecution. If he had taken greater steps to preserve Christianity’s evolving sister religion, the mystery cult of Mithras, then the world we live in may have been very different.

The first use of the term Sol Invictus was in relation to the imported Syrian deity, Elagabalus, by his namesake, the youthful Antoninus Augustus. Following his death, the cult was reconstructed by Aurelian, with less focus on Elagabalus and a more general interpretation on the notion of Sol as the light-bringer. The term since then has been popularly appended to other deities, not only Christ, but also Apollo and Mithras too.

It may therefore be worth considering that whilst many evangelical Christians are anxious about the subversion of Christ’s role in the secular celebration of Christmas, Christ – like Sol Invinctus – is but a title, and as such the true significance of a winter festival celebrating light is not really whether the son of a carpenter was born in a stable in Bethlehem, but rather that, at this time of year, families gather together in order to give thanks for how such light has enriched their lives. It should not matter whether the focus of the festival is Jesus, Helios, Apollo, Elagabalus, Mithras, or even the Morning Star, Lucifer; what truly matters is how the human world is touched by light.

Regardless of the circumstances, this is something we all have cause to utter thanks for.

 

 

 

 

King Herod the Great

 

The king raged despite himself, the anger darkening his ruddy features. He wore a neatly trimmed beard and a grand crown, yet for all the spectacle of his status and riches, Herod’s features betrayed him as a failure. His fingers curled into fists, hammering the table before him and spilling countless goblets of wine as flecks of spittle stained his neat beard, and, again, the observer thought with irony that here before him, stood the ‘King of the Jews’ [– a king in title only, awaiting his overthrow by a child born for the masses.
__
__]King Herod limps onto stage like Shakespeare’s Richard III, grandiose and absurd. He is the pantomime villain, the snarling paranoiac who accosts every wise man and mage who crosses his path in every Nativity Play across the country. Both the role and the depiction of Herod in this scenario date back to the medieval Mystery Plays, where he was likewise played as the comic villain, storming back and forth within his palace walls, apoplectic with rage as angels on high warn both shepherds and magi of his cruel intentions.

These plays originated as a performance by clergymen designed to illustrate significant Biblical events as a form of entertainment for the masses. By 1210, the transition had been made to guilds of actors, usually commissioned by the town council, who would perform these plays during festival events, specifically Christmas and Easter. The change in performers led to a more dramatic approach to the plays and one less constrained by the established text of the Bible. Folklore and fancy crept slowly but surely into the narrative, and eventually, the characters became archetypes.

It is through this tradition that we have inherited not only the bulk of pantomime absurdities, but also the comic cruelty present in Shakespeare’s own work. In this fashion, King Herod the Great, once renowned for his part in the reconstruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, became a character of farce and absurdity.

Having travelled so far from the hypothetical events in question, it is easy to play Herod for laughs, to forget the megalomania and the cold desperation to retain his place upon the throne of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. It is easy to reduce the historical essence of the man to slapstick and stupidity. However, let us not forget that before his translation into stereotype, Herod was a soldier supporting Augustus prior to his coronation as Caesar, one who won great favour with the authority in Rome. Yet all too often, the importance of his military role is overshadowed by the events following the escape of the magi.

The Massacre of the Innocents has become a cornerstone of the nativity, recorded in Coptic sources as having taken place on the 29th December. During the height of the Mystery Plays, the deaths for which Herod was responsible during the massacre ranged from an estimated 14,000 to a staggering 144,000 including his own son, according to the writings of Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius, most popularly known for his work chronicling Saturnalia.

Modern sources however indicate that the total of deaths was closer to 20.

Regardless of the death toll however, Herod remains one of our most resounding festive villains, a figure rooted in horror and history, reduced to the role of pantomime villain. Perhaps if old Father Christmas was to recruit the former king amongst his retinue (alongside the Krampus and Zwarte Piet), the notion of a horrifying punishment for poorly behaved children might once more become a source of anxiety rather than an idle threat.

 

 

 

 

Mithra

 

[The realm of light confronted the observer once again; another pathway leading into the realm of the absolute. Yet, for the first time, he saw now the suggestion of a physical plain beyond the light – the world from which they had all descended. Green pastures stretched out into the horizon, alien cattle lowing beneath the blessings of the sun. He reached out his hand towards it once again and recoiled in fear as he suddenly became aware of a presence at his shoulder. Turning slowly, the observer came face to face with a thousand ears and a myriad of eyes…
__
__]The Indo-Iranian deity, Mitra underwent several translations in terms of both language and faith. As a Vedic deity, Mitra’s role was one of covenant-keeping, a deity to witness the bargains and treaties of humans and hold each party responsible for their actions. This function continued in the deity’s translation into Zoroastrianism, where his name is recorded as Mithra. It was this incarnation of the deity that later developed into the tradition of the syncretic Mithras as worshipped by Roman soldiers, a figure whose cult rivalled that of the evolving Christianity and again appears in Manichaeism as both Mihryazd (“The Living Spirit”) and Mihr (“The Messenger”).
p.
Manichaeism gives us our first suggestion of Mithra as a messianic figure, an intercessor who, like Christ, petitions on our behalf. He is the force that moves between the world of matter and the world above, a deity determined to release divine light back into the universe and rectify the fall of the First Man. To further conflate the arrangement of Christ’s role, Mithra appears again in his role as judge, one of three beings stationed upon the bridge of separation, the Chinvat bridge, over which all souls must pass on the way to their final rest.

Thus we inherit a deity who presides over covenants and souls, a figure who strives to bring illumination to the minds of those living and offers judgement of the souls of those who have passed on.

Yet the Mithra of Zoroastrianism is much more than a deity of promises, his role also evolved to incorporate a certain relationship with the movements of the sun. This significant role and the association between his role as both a sun god and a judge led to several combinations in the Hellenistic sprawl of combining religions: one was the previously mentioned Mithras-Helios of the mystery cult once worshipped in Walbrook, the other was Mithras-Apollo, a judge of both the living and the dead.

In both roles however, it is important to note that Mithra retains his association with the sun, even though this was not his primary function in Zoroastrianism.

Like many pantheons of the ancient world, the ancient Persian gods and goddess were often invoked in order to protect crops and ensure favour. It is against this backdrop that we see a third variation of Mithra emerge amongst Greco-Roman worshippers: Mithras-Saturn, a god of time. The role of Saturn in Christmas traditions will be expanded upon in a later entry, however right now it is significant to note that again we see a resurgence of the chain that links Christmas with Saturnalia.

Whilst it is difficult to fully understand the complexity of roles Mithra played in the numerous religions he appears in, what we are left with is the impression of a benevolent yet stern messiah, a judge of both the seasons and the soul.

It is no wonder then that early Christianity felt much consternation about the spread of a religion with such a similar figurehead.

 

 

 

Father Time

 

He was tall, thin, and very old, a dangerous sense of calm radiating from his presence. The observer believed he had met all manner of people, yet there was none who had ever struck him as being so deeply sorrowful and yet patiently calm as the old man who now stood before him. His mannerisms were those of someone capable of reading others, of answering questions before they had been asked, and resolving requests in the shortest amount of time possible. Indeed, if time was money for most people, then to this man—[to this man, it was his very sustenance!
__
__]The image of [*Father Time *]appears long before he is given a name. He is the personification of our own mortality, the suggestion of the passing moment; regret, nostalgia, and passing memory characterised as an aged man in a sullen robe, a heavy scythe slung over his shoulder.

Traditionally appearing at New Year as he shuffles out through the winter light and makes way for the dawn of January, our first introduction to him as a named entity however was as the Greek Cronus and the Roman Saturn. As mentioned in previous entries, the Romans celebrated the Saturnalian festival of good will and merriment upon the same date later adopted by Christianity, yet the image of the merry making deity raising a goblet to the passing year before tearing into a morsel of baby flesh is not the sole image of Father Time etched into popular conscience.

There is another suggestion; the peasants dancing up the hills during the final chapter of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, the paintings of the Parisian Church of the Holy Innocents, named for those who perished in Herod’s slaughter—there is the image of Father Time as Death.

The grim skeleton, sometimes wrapped in a cloak, sometimes not, has become one of the most significant and enduring cultural images of the West. It is only fitting then, that the aspect of this personification of mortality should be conflated with the god who presides over the passing of human time. The message is explicit for all who recognise it: to pass time is to die—to live even is to die.

Yet if the image of Father Time is also synonymous with Death, his characteristics and appearance are equally similar to the figure of Father Christmas. Perhaps there is some deeper suggestion in this, the notion that despite the myriad presents in his sack, Father Christmas cannot give us the one gift we all secretly desire; freedom from the Angel of Death. This message is mirrored in the portrayal of Father Christmas in C.S. Lewis’ Christian allegory, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In this story, the Pevensie children receive several distinct gifts from Father Christmas; the sword and shield, the bow and arrows, the summoning horn and a curative capable of healing near-fatal wounds, yet the one thing he cannot give them is victory. Despite his armoury, the spirit of winter cannot intercede on their behalf.

Christian theologians would argue, with perhaps a quotation from John 14:6, that only Christ can provide victory over death. My response would be that they are simply not trying hard enough.

Like any figure, Death can be bribed or bartered with, especially if you are skilled at playing chess.

Despite the association with mortality, Father Time seems happily predisposed towards his own passing, willingly offering his role up to the gods of the New Year and happily shuffling off into the realms of an eternal rest.

Judaic tradition suggests that there are six different angels who hold dominion over the passing of different classes: Gabriel presides over kings; Ḳapẓiel over youths; Mashbir over animals; Mashḥit over children; Af and Ḥemah over man and beast. Perhaps too, there is another angel who presides over passing years, and more importantly, perhaps there is a Death of Death.

When all bridges have been crossed, when all tolls have been paid and ferries beached, when the psychopomps have retired from their roles as guides, perhaps there is a Death that comes for these very avatars of fatality—and perhaps in that, Father Time, first and most vindictive of the Titans, is able to find peace.

 

 

[]Perchta

[* *]

[Row upon row of predatory teeth. Yet despite the monstrous goat’s fearsome visage, its eyes were all too human; sorrowful and heartbroken, trapped forever within the features of a hideous beast.
__
__]The [*Perchta *]appears in Germanic folklore in two significant forms, the pre-Christian and the demonised. The original form, her name once meaning ‘Bright One,’ was, like Brigid, a deity who later became associated with a Christian martyr.

In her pre-Christian role, Perchta appears firstly as a member of the same Wild Hunt associated with Odin. She is depicted as a beautiful maiden in a flowing white gown, a guardian of forest animals and protector of the realm of nature, cognate with the southern Germanic figure of Frau Holda. It can be assumed that, as with Odin’s association with Woden, both these figures are associated with the role of the same archetypal proto-deity who gave rise to the Æsir goddess Frigg and the Vanir goddess Freyja of Norse tradition.

In later mythology, as Christianity began to spread even as far as the Alpine ridges, Perchta’s role became increasingly mischievous, her manner taking on many of the elements of Robin Goodfellow’s role in English tradition. Varying traditions from this period depict her as a forest dwelling sorceress, much like Baba Yaga, until at last her role was conflated with the 4th century Christian, St. Lucia. This transformation led to a division in Perchta’s personality, her ‘good’ self once more represented as the young woman in a flowing white robe, whilst her ‘bad’ self appeared as a monstrous goat-like monster, stalking the Alps upon bipedal legs and breaking into the homes of families during the period between Christmas and Epiphany. Like the Japanese Namahage, the fiend Perchta would target children and sometimes servants, leaving a coin in the shoe for those who had been well-behaved, and slitting open the bellies of those who had been bad, removing the entrails and filling the empty spaces with straw and stones.

The splintering of Perchta’s personality and role gave rise to a change in terminology.

Prior to her demonisation, the goddess’s worshippers had been known as Perchten, now this term came to indicate an entire parade of saints and devils, beautiful forest maidens keeping company with salivating daemons. During the course of this, the shining and radiant priestesses of the forest came to be known as Schönperchten, whilst the devils were known as [Schiachperchten.
__
__]Of all the Schönperchten, St. Lucia, whose eyes were gouged from her face as part of a series of punishments for her refusal to marry a pagan man, is considered the most beautiful. In a move that follows the eventual association of Puck with the Devil, it is claimed that of all the fearsome Schiachperchten, the Devil himself is the most horrific.

It appears then that it is not only magi and shepherds abroad in the country, seeking the news of children asleep in their managers, but also Satan who has a role to play in the nativity of the Christmas calendar.

 

[* *]

 

 

Tonton Macoute

 

[Desperately, he struggled against the other’s grasp, pushing away but with no success. The fight with the Perchta had weakened him, his muscles aching and his wounds raw. He had not the strength to ward off another foe, yet his enemy remained so intent in bludgeoning him into unconsciousness and forcing him within the depths of a sack. Every part of his body screaming in protest, the observer continued to resist, hoping against hope that he would not end his days smothered by icy water and the rough material of his enemy’s gunnysack.
__
__]The Tonton Macoute is a significant entry in terms of both folklore and recent Haitian political history.

The name was originally used to describe a particular kind of monster, oft invoked by parents in order to scare children into behaving. His name is derived from the sack he carried over his shoulder, and is simply translated as ‘Uncle Gunnysack.’ The manner and style of the Tonton Macoute is not markedly different from such Christmas traditions of the Krampus, Zwarte Piet, and Le Pere Fouettard, yet the Tonton Macoute originally was not a seasonal character.

Like the monster-under-the-bed and other unspecified beings of the folklore imposed on children by adults, the Tonton Macoute was a being not bound by seasonal times of visit, but rather one who could be summoned at any time of year. He was always waiting for an opportunity to snatch misbehaving children up in his heavy sack. His especial calling was the kidnapping of children who stayed up late after their bedtimes. Again, like the seasonal characters we have already encountered, it was not unusual for naughty children to expect a visit from the Tonton Macoute late at night, asking to be let inside.

This similarity of methods and themes presents us with a glimpse of the developing myths and processes that surround our festivals, suggesting that, if the circumstance is right, those beings that haunt our holidays, can also haunt our everyday lives. Likewise, the spirit of these characters can sometimes take flesh and provide a new platform for anxiety and terror.

The historical Tonton Macoute, like their counterparts in folklore, also visited Haitian citizens after dark. They were the professional secret police of corrupt president, François Duvalier, and his successor son, Jean-Claude, from 1959 until the younger Duvalier’s exile in 1986. Rather than appearing as the inspiration for the myth, the historical Tonton Macoute were derived from the uncertainty and terror associated with the original. They were so named due to their appearance at any time, and their freedom to act in such a fashion that absolved them of any guilt. Without an army or police force, the peoples of Haiti lay entirely at the mercy of this terror army and their dictator until the nation underwent a violent and radical uprising and revolution during the 1980s.

The secret police of François Duvalier has long since been dissolved upon Haitian shores, yet still, regardless of the passing of his real world counterparts, the Tonton Macoute scouts the dark streets in search of children, more vindictive and watchful than ever.

 

 

 

 

Moloch

 

[Although his opponent claimed to be of noble blood, there was nothing noble in his appearance. Misshapen and monstrous, the deity Moloch was clothed in the guise of an ox, wild eyes staring out from the borrowed features of the animal. Again, the observer lifted his blade, knowing that once more he would be called upon to quit observation and begin interaction. The aged god grew closer and closer, and in his nostrils, the observer smelt the decay of blistering flesh.
__
__]December, according to 16th century demonologists and astrologers, is the month when the daemon [*Moloch *]holds sway over the course of the world.

Originating in the Middle East and spreading to North Africa, the cult of Moloch is mostly known not for its historical context but for its appearance in the Bible as a threat to ancient Judaism. Solomon, son of David, is reviled as having built temples to both Moloch and other Canaanite and Phoenician deities. Likewise, Moses was previously given instruction by God not to transgress by worshipping false deities such as Moloch.

In keeping with the theme of previous characters from our Monster Calendar, one of the most significant associations with Moloch is one of child sacrifice. Reputed as a kidnapper of children who delights in making mothers weep in medieval texts, Moloch is depicted as a Prince of Hell. There is a sense of continuity in both this and in the role of Moloch as a monster preying upon children in that the original Judaic notion of Gehenna, a concept derived from a valley close to Jerusalem where Phoenician priests allegedly burnt children in offering to Moloch.

Like the Greek Cronus, it is speculated that the sacrifice of children to Moloch was ritualised through focus on an idol in which the victims were interred. This again coincides with images of both the tradition that gave way to the Böögg and the Celtic Wicker Man, yet also yields an unexpected festive note in that amongst children, flour and both ewes and rams, and calves and oxen, turtle-doves were also trapped within the statue of the deity and burnt alive.

Yet whether the cult of Moloch was truly as loathsome as represented in the bias of Jewish and Greek propaganda is uncertain. At present, it is uncertain even as to the etymology of the deity’s name, let alone whether it was a god or not. What remains is only the association of opponents of Carthage and Canaan, both cultures keen to discredit their enemies and win a moral as well as physical victory over the past. Like many gods of the pre-Abrahamic and pre-Roman world, Moloch appears as little more than a famous footnote in our understanding of events, a suggestion of a religion which we have no historical context for. What remains is the impression of a counter-argument, a justification for action.

Yet whilst it is important to ‘give the Devil his due’, so to speak, it is important to note that without the cult of Moloch, there would be no concept of a Judeo-Christian Hell. In this respect, perhaps Moloch is truly the original source of evil in the world.

Having featured Moloch in two previous novels, I feel I would be remiss if I did not mention that Do Not Choose to Ask My Name and A Nation of Shadows are both available from amazon and other booksellers.

 

 

 

 

Gabriel

 

[The observer knew Gabriel of old and was in no hurry to excite the angel’s attention, chusing to remain a safe distance and watch as the feminine man knelt gently and inclined his lips towards the woman’s ear, whispering words of prophecy and promise. Around the neck of the interloping messenger hung a horn upon a thread, an instrument designed to play a musical soliloquy of the future. At his side, the observer’s fingers twitched, the hilt of his sword within reach. His blade bore the same markings as Gabriel’s own, forged in the same flames born of the same stars. If he were to strike Gabriel down now, then there would be an end to the anticipation of the apocalypse, an end to the collapse of the world. If only he were to reach out and slay the messenger with his blade then the world could be saved from the impending fate crafted by the malignant creator. If only…
__
__]The angel [*Gabriel *]is best known in secular circles as being the angel who informed the Virgin Mary of her miraculous pregnancy. Prior to this he also appeared before Zacharias and Elizabeth to predict the birth of their son, Jesus’ precursor, John the Baptist. The former is a scene familiar to many for its place in nativity plays, yet the latter is slightly more obscure, despite the fact that both are sourced from the Gospel of Luke. Garth Ennis’s run on DC/Vertigo’s John Constantine: Hellblazer likens the annunciation to the Virgin Mary’s rape by Gabriel in issue #64, a scene that certainly adds drama to the celestial comedy of the unfolding events in the New Testament.

In many plays, Gabriel returns in later acts to both inspire the shepherds and warn the magi of Herod’s duplicity, yet all of these roles are trivial compared to the angel’s role in later Abrahamic tradition.

Featuring prominently in Islam, the angel Gabriel—hailed as Jibrīl, or a variant thereof—is thought to have been the angel who delivered the Qur’an to Muhammad, forcing the prophet to commit each word to memory and faithfully reproduce the message as delivered from G-d above. Likewise, he is said to have again met with Muhammad in order to usher him into Heaven and meet the former prophets of the previous covenant. Each year, during the last days of the festival of Ramadan, Gabriel again returns to Earth in commemoration of having delivered G-d’s word to Muhammad.

In Judaism, Gabriel first appears as the angel who sends the prophet Daniel on his mission to interpret the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar II. In later tradition, Gabriel is placed to the left of G-d with the angel Metatron, both playing roles in Jewish tradition as the oracles by which G-d’s word is conveyed to humanity.

This high esteem places Gabriel in a unique position. Like his fellow archangels, he is a warrior skilled not only in battle but in subterfuge—as illustrated in his efforts to set the nations of the giants against one another in the Book of Enoch—and it is this that led to the first association of Gabriel with the angel who blows the trumpet signalling the end of the world in the Christian Book of Revelations. This is a role often associated with Heimdallur in Norse mythology who likewise sounds the beginning of the end for the Æsir, and is a tradition that appears in Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost.

This tapestry of fable leaves us with the image of Gabriel not just as the messenger of a new covenant, but the messenger and herald of the death of everything, the very force who instigates the collapse and decay of the world for which the adversary of G-d has been made a prince.

Thus on the one hand, Gabriel inspires hope, whilst on the other, he plots destruction.

 

 

 

 

Saturn

 

[The visage of the old god was fierce and barbaric, wild with mad intent. The observer watched as the old titan’s rough hands seized up the bawling child in his grasp and snatched it ever upwards toward his gaping mouth, saliva streaming from his rough, broken teeth. The child’s head lolled, its eyes wide and its nose full of mucus and snot as it met the observer’s gaze and let out a milky belch of confusion. Then, all too soon, the sound in its throat turned to pain, and the old god’s teeth tore into the soft flesh of its belly.
__
__]Upon the banks of the river Manzanares, close to Madrid, rested a small two-storey house named the Quinta del Sordo. Within the confines of this quiet house, the Spanish artist Francisco Goya created a series of darkened images upon the walls during the years 1819 to 1823. This series of images, never named by the artist himself, have come to be known as the Black Paintings. Featured amongst this collection is the image of a wild, bearded man lifting one of his headless children up to his gaping maw.

It is this image, more so than any others that best describes the nature of the titan Saturn, known in Greek mythology as Cronus.

Saturnalia was the traditional mid-winter festival of the Roman Empire, a place in the calendar now supplanted by our current Christmas traditions. During Saturnalia, the roles of master and slave were reversed, a wild kind of madness casting the social convention of the preceding months to the wind and allowing chaos to break loose in the cities. Masters would serve meals to their slaves, presents were exchanged, and colourful costumes would be worn in place of the traditional toga.

As late as the 16th century, this festival, whilst no longer associated with Saturn, continued under the guise of Christmas. Often a Lord of Misrule—usually a child or simpleton—would be voted in as a farcical head of a Feast of Fools, and the absurdities of organised religion would be openly mocked under the pretence of merry making. This inversion of faith and dogma is unique in its medieval context as such cruel mockery of religious authority by the common people is not often seen within the framework of the same religion, but usually labelled as Satanism. In this way, we see a connexion between the roles of the Lord of Misrule, the Roman Saturn, and the Christian Devil.

In mythology, save for the cannibalism of his children, Saturn is best represented as being, like Mithra, an agricultural deity, responsible for the castration and murder of his own father, Caelus, as surely as the prediction was made that one of his children would likewise one day overthrow him. Following the eventual fulfilment of this prophecy and his own castration, Saturn fled to Rome and reigned there for countless centuries, the course of which was commemorated during Saturnalia.

It is in this way that we are find Saturn presiding over both the seasons of the Earth and the mind, his sickle signifying the labour of those who toil in the fields and his wild beard representing his claim as patron of those advanced in age.

Whilst Jupiter may have been responsible for order in the world, it was his father who continued to preside over chaos, fashioning an antiquarian kingdom which would, like him, leave a legacy of cruelty and advancement; madness and benevolence.

If the act of Saturn’s cannibalism is an inhuman crime, then surely the accompanying fear and emotion that held sway over his thoughts are sadly all too human in their origin.

 

 

 

 

Puck

 

[The other’s hooves left prints in the fresh snow as it fell upon the darkened streets, a blanket of pure white beneath a veil of midnight darkness. The forests at the edge of town had dried up, the branches of the trees hung heavy with snow, yet within the town, and within the imprints let by the other’s hooves, the observer saw the first traces of spring shooting up from the raw soil below.
__
__]The image of Puck is associated by many with the idea of summer, specifically midsummer, thanks to the work of one William Shakespeare.

The tradition from which the popular character is derived is that of a trickster spirit, luring people out to their deaths in fog by creating ghostly illumination in forests. This type of spirit is not uncommon, being similarly known as a will-o’-the-wisp in England, and is similar to the [_foxfire _]of kitsune in Japanese mythology. Puck himself became distinct from these other spirits when first he acquired a name, or rather, a pseudonym, Robin Goodfellow, sometime before 1531.

Ever troublesome, the reason for disguising Puck’s identity with a cypher was the belief that, to call his name, was to literally draw his attention, and therefore welcome potential misfortune into the home. There are occasions of Puck being both summoned and convinced into doing the housework or maintaining a house for a human benefactor, but as with the Swedish tomte, the rules for such interaction with the mischievous spirit were often complex and convoluted. The late 19th century reference work, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, goes so far to compare Puck with the tradition of the tomte, in addition to mentioning his association with the German Christmas tradition of Knecht Ruprecht.

It is this syncretic fusion of traditions that led first to Puck’s association with the Greek Pan—a tradition upheld by Milton and Kipling—and also, through early church attempts to demonise popular deities, with the Devil himself. This later association leads us back to the image of the cloven hoofed servants of Father Christmas; the traditions of the Krampus, Perchta, and many others. In transforming the landscape of the religious context in which these figures were viewed, the early church failed in stamping them out but rather succeeded in preserving them like cuckoos within their own nest. Puck gained in significance following the Christian expansion, evolving from what was once a local spirit located in a certain forest to the throne of Hell itself.

Yet despite the shift in depiction of motives, Puck remains a playful, mischievous character, encouraging and beguiling only in his pursuit of amusement and excitement. In this again we see a glimpse of the figure of Pan, whose goat-like appearance the forest spirit later assumed. His manner still playful and yet deceptive, but somehow, for a villain, he retains a place of fondness for both audiences and those who trespass within his forests.

In his initial appearances in ballads and poems, Puck was oft associated with a trademark laugh, a declaration of mirth familiar to all. It is a call again associated with Christmas, an announcement of ‘Ho, ho, ho,’ that echoes down every chimney in every town on Christmas Eve.

Yet if the notion of a devil delivering presents to children and usurping G-d in the decisions as to who has been good and who has not unnerves you, then the final act of Shakespeare’s play has some advice for you:

“[If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.]”

 

 

 

Amaterasu

 

The observer had thought himself safe from the light. In part, the arrogance of this was in his former associations with the magic of illumination, but mostly it was due to his experiences with other creatures bathed in the luminescence of otherworldly beings. Yet slowly, as the woman slumbering upon the damp floor of the cave awoke, lifting her head up and looking cautiously in his direction, the observer understood the nature of true light—[and the horror that its absence suggested.
__
__]The 21st December is celebrated in various cultures as the winter solstice, and being a date of some significance, it is not surprising to find various different deities presiding over events in each different culture. In Eastern Europe, the fierce Chernobog—of whom we will learn more later—reigns in full from his winter throne, whilst in Japan, the goddess Amaterasu-Ōmikami returns from her self-imposed exile within the depths of a dark cave.

Like other festivals involving sun deities, the myth of Amaterasu’s retreat into a cave of darkness is an expression of seasonal changes, an explanation for how things change during different times of the year. In the narrative, Amaterasu’s brother, His-Swift-Impetuous-Male-Augustness Susano-o, god of the seas, offended his sister with his restless destruction and impatience, forcing her to hide away within a cave and thus deprive the world of light.

The goddess hid for an indefinitely long period and was only drawn once more into the world when a mirror was held up to the cave, and, curious and jealous of the radiant light that filled the cave, Amaterasu ventured to the mouth in order to catch a glimpse of the new goddess of light she assumed had been invited to the Earth. At this point, fellow deity Tajikarao no kami rolled the stone open and Amaterasu was revealed to the world, like Christ outside of the tomb of his mortal body, presented to both his mother, the Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene.

Following the misbehaviour of her brother, Susano-o was banished to live on Earth, where he later went on to play a pivotal role in the defeat of Yamata no Orochi, a dread serpent with eight heads.

In a second comparison with the development of Christianity and specifically the lineage of Papal power in accordance with the authority of St. Peter, the Japanese royal family traces its ancestry to Amaterasu. Amongst the iconic treasures of Japan is the mirror used to summon the goddess back from within the cave. This mirror, allegedly held at the Grand Shrine of Ise, when combined with the sword of Susano-o and the sacred Yasakani no Magatama, are the regalia used to confer the monarch’s ascent to the throne. So important are these icons that many have not been publicly seen for centuries. Indeed, the Grand Shrine of Ise itself is largely concealed from the general public.

It is not hard to see a comparison in stories with other matriarchal figures in mythology such as Sophia, and like the Bodhisattva Guanyin, she is sometimes depicted in a male form.

Considering the syncretic nature of both Shintoism and Buddhism, and the fact that stars are little more than suns too distant for their light to warm our world, it is not so far-fetched to imagine a scenario wherein the Star of Bethlehem may well have been one Sol Invinctus leading wondering magi to the birth of another.

 

 

 

 

Chernobog

 

[Upon a throne of skulls, the Black God of discord languished in isolation, a dream of the world playing out behind his closed eyelids. He saw a cosmos transformed by curses, a sky in which stars fell into the waters of the Earth and life boiled away in moments. His lips twitched in a smile, and the observer shuddered to see the mouth of the deity contorted in such a fashion. During the light of summer and spring, the Black God remained in peace, dreaming alone of his rising when autumn leaves had fallen and nights had lengthened. Around his throne gathered snow and ice, and slowly but surely, his posture began to shift, his pulse quickening. All the while, the observer remained rooted to the spot, sword in hand; unable to hold back the changing tides of the world he had inherited.
__
__]The dark god, [*Chernobog *]is, like Amaterasu, a deity who came to be celebrated during the winter solstice. Whilst much of the material we have featuring the original cult surrounding him comes with a Christian bias, it is strongly indicated that Chernobog was, if not malevolent, a god of darkness. To worship him was not to praise the changing season or to offer thanks for the harvest, but rather to acknowledge winter and the fading light.

In Eastern Europe, this worship is centred on the festival of Kračún[_, _]sometimes called Korochun, which fell upon the 21st December. The surrounding myth details a story echoed by many Persian and Egyptian themes in which the sun god, Hors, fades away, and over the following two days, dies and is resurrected, much like Christ. During the absence of the sun god, the Black God rules the world, and as such, popular themes associated in the West with Hallowe’en are often included during this festival. During the Black God’s reign, the harrowing of the Earth, the spirits of the other world would be allowed free reign amongst the world of men. Amongst these spirits were returning ancestors who required appeasement by the respect and memorials of the living. In this fashion, the festival of the Black God is also thematically linked with both the Japanese Obon festival and the Mexican Día de los Muertos.

There is the suggestion from certain medieval sources that mentions a significant tradition of Kračún involving the passing of a goblet amidst a circle of people. For all that was good, the name of a good god would be blessed, whilst for everything bad, the Black God would be cursed.

The most prominent appearance of Chernobog outside of Eastern Europe and within popular culture is his role in the 1940 animated film, Fantasia, produced by Walt Disney. The Black God appears in the section featuring Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain and Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria, a piece that should be noted for its association with the Christmas period. Walt Disney openly referred to the Chernobog of his feature as cognate with Satan in various interviews at the time, whilst the machinations of movements of the Black God were based upon the gestures of popular Hungarian horror actor, Béla Lugosi.

Perhaps lacking as much social significance, the Disney version of Chernobog also appears in the first of Square-Enix’s Kingdom Hearts _]games, and plays a significant role as the first daemon summoned by ‘[_Harmonixer’ Yuri Hyuga in Sacnoth’s [Shadow Hearts.
__
__]In recent times, non-Slavic Europeans have adopted the term Kračún as a loanword used to mean Christmas, thus again equating the birth of the saviour with the rule of a tyrant, even if such was not the original intention.

 

[* *]

 

 

Guanyin

[* *]

The mother held the child in her arms, no crib for a bed, and the observer felt himself displaced amidst the scene, almost as if he were witnessing an event that should not stir him, yet somehow did. Like others he had encountered, the woman was sublimely peaceful, her expression one of calm and patience. The observer tried to take his eyes from her features, to study the upturned face of the child as it rested close to the mother’s breast amidst the crowded stable, yet, above all, the woman held his attention. Never before had he seen such virtue expressed without the necessity of words. Never before had he seen such love of a parent for a child. Never before had he seen such compassion.

In the Tzu-chi Foundation Hospital in Hualien, Taiwan, there hangs a painting of a woman and child, commissioned to evoke the manner of Catholic images featuring the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus. Whilst the child in this painting is unnamed, the woman in the portrait is identified as the Bodhisattva, Guanyin. Likewise, in both Japan’s Fukushima and Fukuoka Prefectures, there are at least two massive statues of the Bodhisattva holding a child in her arms.

The use of this imagery is intended to underline the significance of Guanyin’s compassionate nature and her role as an intercessor on behalf of the human race, having famously once been granted one thousand arms in reply to her struggle to free living creatures of the curse of reincarnation. This act of compassion is comparative with the role of Sophia, who in Gnostic myth placed herself between the malignant creator deity and the human race. Yet it is not Sophia to whom the Bodhisattva is mostly popularly compared, but rather to the Virgin Mary, especially in regards to her role in Catholicism.

Following the social upheaval of the 17th century, the decline of Japanese trade relations with the West and the insular policies of the Tokugawa shogunate, Christianity was suppressed in Japan with many Christians forced to practise their religion in hiding, just as Western Christians had been forced to do before Constantine unified the Roman Empire following its schism. One of the secret ways in which Christianity was maintained in Japan was by the adoption of Buddhist iconography and imagery. It is from this period that we first see depictions of the figure now called ‘Maria Kannon’—the Virgin Mary as disguised as Guanyin (or Kannon, as she is known in Japan).

This practise was never intended to be syncretic. The hidden Christians of 17th century Japan never intended to fuse the subjects of Buddhism and Christianity, and yet despite this, in later centuries popular Buddhism has been quick to embrace the similarities. What began with Christian art disguised as Buddhist icons has resulted in Buddhist art stressing the similarities between Buddhist figures and Christian ones.

It should not surprise us that Guanyin is depicted in this manner.

Originally, her character was derived from the male Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, a prominent figure in Mahāyāna Buddhism, and the Queen Mother of the West in Taoism. This fusion of traits and stories resulted in the Goddess of Mercy as she is popularly conceived of.

Given this, it is not difficult to see the correlation between Guanyin and the Virgin Mary, nor is it difficult to understand the significance of this combination. Like Mary, who wept at Jesus’ feet during the crucifixion, and who later ascended to Heaven in the company of Gabriel in order to take her place as a Queen, Guanyin is a matriarchal monarch searching for a way in which to improve the quality of the living, her eleven heads forever watching over the worlds.

In this way, Guanyin plays the role of both the Virgin and the messiah.

 

 

 

The Devil

 

[Since the fall of the stars, the observer had spent his time roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it. He had encountered countless creatures struggling to find their place in it, to eke out a life amidst the expanding empires of mankind, and slowly but surely, he had become convinced that his time simply observing such events could no longer continue. In order to keep man in check, to preserve structure within the unfolding events he found himself a part of, the observer would need to take on a new life and a new manner. No longer would he be the morning light, warming the damp grass of the world from afar. Instead he would become the prince of the power of the air, the adversary of man wherever he built his cities. Now he would no longer be named Lucifer, instead the world would call him the Accuser, the Wicked One, the Enemy; instead the world would call him the Devil.
__
__]The history of [*the Devil *]depicts him as once having been the most beautiful and radiant of all the angels in Heaven. He is thought of as the most loved and perfect angel of the creator, the morning star which shone the brightest in all of the skies. His epithet is the ‘light-bringer,’ a title often ascribed in Greek myth to the goddess of light, Aphrodite. Yet as bright as his origins are, Christianity also represents him as the serpent in the Garden of Eden who first convinces Eve to partake of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and share it with Adam. He is regarded as the source of all evil in the world and the originator of man’s downfall in response to his own fall from Heaven. This same scenario is depicted in Gnostic myth from a counterpoint, suggesting that the snake is in fact a saviour of sorts, guiding Eve towards knowledge intentionally hidden by the creator.

Despite this, many cultures continue to depict the Devil as the enemy of the world.

It is thus something of a surprise that in the Czech Republic, tradition places him in the company of St. Nicholas, dishing out punishments to naughty children whilst a corresponding angel on the saint’s right hand rewards good behaviour. 

Likewise, during the Jamaican festive carnival of Jonkanoo, the Devil appears again as one of several characters in the parade, rubbing shoulders with Native Americans, characters possessed of animal heads, and a Hobby Horse character who seems representative of the Cornish ‘Obby ‘Oss tradition.

Sometimes the myth of the Krampus goes so far as to suggest that he is indeed the Devil, beaten into submission by the saint and forced to assist him in his goal of delivering presents to children.

It is impossible to know when these practices first occurred, but it is likely that the slow conversion of Alpine cultures to Christianity and the demonisation of many pagan deities led to an impasse in terms of celebration. If the gods who danced about forest fires and maypoles had suddenly become devils in the imposed Christian order, then devils they would be, regardless of the fact that their roles remained unchanged. Rather than call into question their alliance, this transformation of parade into pandemonium led to the unusual alliance of what is considered good and holy, and that which is often depicted as the opposition of such forces.

The Devil becomes a force of order amongst the chaotic change of seasons, an elder guardian who remains aloft and opposed to humanity, and yet somehow acts to the benefit of the culture that evolved following the expulsion from the Garden. The Devil provides order and reason, knowledge and understanding, and by participating in such acts as those associated with Christmas tradition, he likewise becomes an educator once more. Where once he had instructed Eve in the concepts of right and wrong, now he enforces such a rule in relation to the behaviour of children.

As the creator deity wages war against His children with environmental chaos, the prince of the world preserves humankind and offers it the most important key to its salvation—the Devil, by his very actions in the world, creates order, and in doing so, paves the way for the evolution of civilisation.

Whilst a child born in a manger might be widely reputed as offering humanity an understanding of their true natures, the Devil offers tools necessary to stave off extinction in the face of the wrath of G-d.

In this, again despite St. Paul’s earlier words, we see once more the natures of Christ and Belial acting in accordance.

 

[]2011

[* *]

 

La Calavera Catrina

 

You first glimpse the stature of the women before you, spying the unusual manner in which they all keep step, heads bowed, flowers held in uncommonly slender fingers before them. The illumination of the gas lamp in your hand flickers, distorting the shadows of the advancing parade and illuminating that which at first you had feared, but had not dared believe. As they grow closer, your terrible suspicions are confirmed: despite the finery of their gowns, despite the blossom of the flowers, and the ornate jewellery, these women are not of the living—[but rather are they of the dead!
__
__]The beginning of winter, the short weeks that lead up to December’s Christmas festivities, play an important role in the cultures of many countries and religions. Most commonly treated as a separate occasion, the Spanish language festival of Día de Muertos holds much in common with the more traditionally known Hallowe’en as well as certain key Christmas themes.

Primarily a time of respect and offerings for the dead, the symbolism of the Day of the Dead is laden with the same meaning found in other Catholic traditions of the season. This is most notable in the case of La Calavera Catrina, a skeleton dressed in the fashion of an elegant and noble lady of breeding, flowers often clutched in her hands. Potentially related to a deity of the Aztec pantheon named Mictecacihuatl, La Calavera Catrina is, like the Catalonian figure of the Caganer, a reminder that the unexpected can call on us at any time.

Yet unlike the merriment of the playful Caganer , La Calavera Catrina is a more macabre warning, a figure akin to the medieval paintings of the Danza de la Muerte, more commonly known to us as the Danse Macabre.

This theme is particularly strong in the offerings left at graves over the two day festival. During Día de los Inocentes, toys are often left upon the graves of children who have died, as readily as alcohol and food is left for adults, especially the seasonal pan de muerto. On the following day, the actual Día de Muertos, families gather around the graves of the deceased, united despite their differences in a celebration of life akin to that which takes place during the Buddhist derived ghost festival of Chinese and Japanese cultures.

The vestigial goddess worship of that long forgotten Aztec tradition and the absorption of many of the old ways into Christian narratives have consistently offered new and alarming embellishments to stories once familiar. In recent times we have seen La Calavera Catrina, once solely a figure of these winter months, styled anew as the Madonna and awarded the name of Santa Muerte. Despite condemnation from the Catholic Church in Mexico, Santa Muerte’s shrines have continued to gain tributes, her patronage often sought by drug dealers and criminals, those whose employment brings them into alarmingly close contact with the spectre of death itself.

In this we see that death, despite the comforts of life, can surprise even the most cautious and pious of men and women. In this we see that death, despite her finery, is still as ugly as ever to behold.

 

 

 

 

Gwyn ap Nudd

 

[The darkness of the undergrowth troubles you, yet you persevere. You have been here before, after all. Perhaps it was long ago, in childhood maybe, yet this dark forest, and the lone hunter who stalks those hidden groves, are not strangers to you. Though his face is dark with shadow, and his sword sharpened, he is not a threat to you. Yes, you have seen this dark rider and his pitch black steed amidst the shadows before, his crown wrought from holly, his determination unyielding. He is both terrifying and noble, a king of majesty wrapped in darkest night and deepest winter. He rides towards you, and you do not fear his countenance.
__
__]If La Calavera Catrina is the representation of the suddenness and equality of death, then the Welsh deity of the Underworld, Gwyn ap Nudd is both psychopomp and guide amidst the shadows of the darkest landscapes of Welsh mythology. Born the son of river deity, Lludd Llaw Eraint—who was himself the son of the hero Beli Mawr, who married the Virgin Mary’s cousin, Anna—Gwyn ap Nudd is the lord of the realm of Annwn, a dark and troubled afterlife originally equated with the Greek Hades and the Hebrew She’ol. As Christianity grew in significance in Europe, the role of this afterlife became less ambiguous, influenced more and more by medieval Catholic concepts of a realm of punishment and degradation. In keeping with this change, Gwyn ap Nudd, whilst still ambiguously heroic despite being an obviously pagan force, became the head of a band of devils, holding them in check in order to prevent them from destroying humanity.

Before the demonising of his role however, the most striking parallels with Gwyn ap Nudd as lord of Annwn are the figures of Norse god Odin, and the faerie king Oberon. The latter is most clearly seen in Annwn’s original depiction as a realm where the dead mingled with fae spirits. In comparison with Odin, Gwyn was also depicted as the master of the Wild Hunt, a theme that reoccurs frequently in European mythology. As the master of the hunt, Gwyn rode his unparalleled mount, the horse Du y Moroedd, in companionship with his chief hunter, Iolo ap Huw, and the fierce Cŵn Annwn, spectral hounds who every Hallowe’en cross the mountain range of Cader Idris, baying and howling so loud that all can hear them from miles around.

Yet despite his long history and association, perhaps Gwyn’s most significant role is his place in Arthurian mythology, a role which leads him to be, unlike Oberon, specifically connected to winter.

In a story that again connects Gwyn with Hades, in one of the most significant tales of The Mabinogion, Gwyn kidnapped the maiden Creiddylad from her brother, Gwythyr ap Greidawl, and spirited her away. In anger, Gwythyr raised up a vast army and rallied against Gwyn in a series of battles that devastated both forces, raised up several national heroes, but ultimately left Gwyn as the victor.

As an act of either arrogance or humility however, Gwyn agreed, at the suggestion of King Arthur, to abide by a contest of strength to take place every May Day for the favour of Creiddylad. The winner of this battle would win the favour of the maiden for the season, and thus, in a parallel with the tale of the Holly King and the Oak King, the season turns from summer to winter.

In this respect, despite the fact that his name might be unfamiliar to those not of Welsh heritage, it would appear that we have all been in the company of Gwyn ap Nudd and the residents of Annwn for several months a year since time immemorial.

 

 

 

 

The Badalisc

[* *]

[You cast out your net wide and yet it falls uselessly to the snow, the vast beast before you rising up on its hind legs and kicking out against the cold air. At your side, the gathered men of the village, garbed in ceremonial robes and masks, surge forward, more familiar with the rite and ritual of the moment, their ropes and nets ensnaring the massive creature, their sticks subduing it into acceptance, and at last, their feet and hands urge it down towards the warmth of the village below.
__
__]Haunting the Southern Alps, the [*Badalisc *]is a soothsaying beast of the Italian village of Andrista, known for relating the secret events of the year, and potentially, like the groundhog of American tradition, predicting the events of the coming year during Epiphany festivities. The distinct difference between the Badalisc and the groundhog is the Badalisc’s propensity for relating more significant information of the future than simple weather predictions. In this we see the creature as being more akin to the mysterious Baí Zé—known in Japan as hakutaku—who appeared before the Yellow Emperor of China who reigned during 2697 – 2597 or 2696 – 2598 BC.

Similarities between the Badalisc and the Baí Zé include not only from their prophecies, but also their appearances. Being both creatures with distinct horned countenances and being both somewhere between cattle and goats, the two creatures might possibly be said to be of the same genus, if not the same species. The difference is the Badalisc’s reluctance or inability to articulate itself in human speech. Capable of somehow transcribing its yearly prophecies, these are read aloud by a member of the village whilst the Badalisc watches mutely on, small eyes glowing in its broad face.

From what has been seen, there is no clear indication of the nature of the Badalisc’s annual speech. It is clear that the forest beast comments on matters that have passed in the village, as well as matters that have yet to transpire, yet there is no actual indication as to whether the people of Andrista in Val Camonica act on anything they learn of supposed future events. It is possible, if not unlikely, that the people of this small Italian village somehow have the power to avoid decline and turmoil despite the turbulent times in which we presently live.

The nature of the Badalisc, again unlike the Baí Zé and hakutaku, seems to indicate an unwillingness to share what it knows of the town’s events. Whilst the Baí Zé approached humans with the intention of relating what was known, the Badalisc seems to go out of its way to avoid contact with humans to such a degree that the opening of the ceremony documents the creature’s capture by the townsfolk.

Therefore, if the Badalisc has to be press-ganged into relating what it knows prior to its release, the question remains—just how much does this tutelary spirit know, and how much more does it keep hidden from the world?

 

 

 

 

Nián

[* *]

[Not a moment too soon, the flame catches the wick of the firework, spitting sparks in your hand as your raise it up and throw into the path of the oncoming beast, its savage jaws wide open. There is no time to flee, no time to make it back before the gates of the village behind you slam shut; there is only the single firework lying in the dirt, and the massive monster bounding towards to you. Abruptly, the firework explodes with a terrifying bang, and with a howl, the beast turns away at the last moment, its tail between its legs.
__
__]Although traditionally a beast associated with the lunar calendar of Chinese culture, the [*Nián *]earns its place in our calendar as the herald of the end of winter. Most recognisable from the festivities of Chinese New Year, the Nián and the dragon are both cultural symbols of the Chinese people. Of their origin, both have specific tales associated with them; however it is the Nián’s role as a seasonal monster that brings it to our attention today.

Known in Japan as shishi-mai, in the Okinawan dialect as shisa, and in Korea as saja-nori, the Nián is often conflated with the [_shíshī _]that stand as guardians before temples and homes. In truth however, the Nián is of a wilder breed of beast. Originally rising from the sea in some stories, or descending from the mountains in others, the Nián is inadvertently responsible for creating one of the most popular traditions of Chinese New Year. The story goes that thousands of years ago, the beast was responsible for a large number of deaths amongst the inhabitants of a remote village, plundering their land each springtime and eating all that crossed its path, especially young children.

Noticing the misery the aged beast inflicted, it was said that the gods reached down and entrapped the vicious Nián in the mountains at the end of the world. Yet it was only a year later that the vindictive animal had slipped free of its gaol and was once again threatening humanity.

Deciding that in order to rid themselves of the beast once and for all they would need to either kill the animal or frighten it away, the people of the village set about painting the walls of their homes a vibrant red in order to scare the Nián, and upon its return, made such a din with fireworks and the clatter of pots and pans, that the creature was so terrified that it fled forever, never to attack again.

In order to ensure that the Nián would not again plague the village, it was decided that each year, at the beginning of Spring, they would let off fireworks and beat the drum, and make as much noise as possible, so that the beast might never have occasion to recover its courage and return. From this practise, the symbolism and celebration of both the Lion Dance and Chinese New Year originated.

Yet whilst the Nián and the mythological Chinese lion might appear to be the same, they are decidedly different. In some versions of the story, the village assaulted by the Nián is specifically identified as the present day city of Dongguan in the Cantonese speaking province of Guangdong, and it is made clear that the Lion Dance originated in mimicry of the Nián as an assurance that, were it to see another of its kind, it would not dare attack. This is why the costumes of Hong Kong and the Southern Provinces Lion Dancers are different from those of the Northern Provinces.

One final embellishment of the tale of the Nián involves the legendary Taoist Immortal, Hongjun Laozu confronting the Nián and challenging it to eat all the poisonous snakes and vicious beasts of the mountain where it lives in order to prove its strength. Upon doing this, the Nián states its claim that next it will eat the old Taoist, for there is no other creature that has any kind of power over it.

Agreeing with a smile, the old sage promptly strips down and reveals his auspicious red underwear which strikes fear in the heart of the Nián. The beast is then subdued to the Taoist path and becomes Laozu’s personal steed.

Yet of the distinct differences between the Nián and the lion, perhaps we shall hear more of later…

 

 

 

 

Rozhanitsa

 

[The woman who stands before you, antlers rising up from atop her head, is neither monstrous nor obscene. You are startled by this, having thus far encountered only monsters and madmen, yet Rozhanitsa stands gracefully apart from the rabble of those previous associations. Reminding you perhaps of some patient relative, you are shocked to notice the curve of her stomach, the indication surely that this curious yet peaceful goddess before you is pregnant. Calmly, you lower your spear, and bow thus your head in supplication.
__
__]The goddess Rozhanitsa, perhaps once cognate with the Greek Artemis and the Roman Diana, is an ancient force of nature perhaps challenging even Odin’s authority as the most aged principality of the Wild Hunt.

Primarily considered a mother deity, Rozhanitsa’s role in Slavic and Russian culture is, like many others of the season, a deity whose glorification also included themes of winter’s decline and the expectant return of summer. Often depicted as pregnant, her festival on the 26th December marked the occasion when each year she would give birth either to a beautiful child or a doe whose head would later be adorned with golden antlers. Whilst this might at first seem an issue of gender confusion regarding the roles of deer, it should be noted that male reindeer regrow their antlers annually, losing them in coldest winter, and thus the child of Rozhanitsa, antlered as she may be, is still very much female.

To us, now familiar as we are with centuries of the propagation of the Roman Sol Invictus theme, it may seem a little strange to consider the sun a female, yet it is not so wild to believe that if the spirit who assures in Spring the fertility of both crops and animals, human and beast alike, is of assigned female, then so too might the very light that enables such a season to exist might also be feminine.

Like the Magi and shepherds who paid homage to the infant Christ in his manger, offers are left to Rozhanitsa and her child at this time of midwinter. Whilst these gifts of cheese, bread, and honey are not as grand as the gold, frankincense, and myrrh offered the Christchild, it should also be noted that the gifts bequeathed Rozhanitsa are the gifts of the season which her child will bless. In order to make these offerings, the villages responsible would have to hold back a certain amount each Spring. With this in mind, it seems that the gifts of the natural world and the value that would have been assigned to them may be more significant than the riches of men.

Regarding her role within the Hunt, it is unclear whether the goddess is associated primarily with the deer that appears in certain iterations of the myth as the focus of the hunt, or rather as the patron. This might seem like a contradiction in terms, yet again it is important to remember the context of the society from which her fable originated. The boons offered in Spring to keep humanity from the brink of exhaustion would also include the results of animal husbandry, that art taught once by the fallen angels known as the Watchers.

Hunting and the consumption of meat would have been a significant part of the culture of those who worshipped Rozhanitsa, and thus, without contradiction, we see again a theme running parallel with Chinese and Japanese animist refrains of veneration of those forms of life which helped humankind to survive.

In more recent years, it has become traditional to embroider and knit garments of bright colours depicting reindeer whilst decorated white biscuits shaped like deer are offered to friends and families as gifts.

So whilst you plan your festivities for one grand party on the 25th, remember that not every celebration of the season is solely about the birth of a baby boy, but instead about a mother.

 

 

 

 

Barbegazi

[* *]

[To each side of you there are a number of the diminutive creatures, each one poised to attack with spear and staff, muttering in low growls to one another and anxiously trying to guess how much danger you pose. Forcefully, you push the spear nearest you down with the clear instruction that the owner should point the tip someplace else. If the owner of the weapon understands your hastily spoken words, it does not show it. Instead, as the snow falls about you, it gestures menacingly at you with its spear once more, and points at the mountain path which you have climbed, indicating just how unwelcome you truly are.
__
__]The [*Barbegazi *]are representative of a common theme in mythology, sharing a hypothetical ancestry with tomte and dwarfs, as well as countless other almost-human faeries and goblins. Often depicted as short creatures, usually masculine, and covered in white fur that may or may not be the end results of their incredibly long beards, the Barbegazi are at first glimpse a race of dwarfen Father Christmases. Originating in Swiss mythology, they are considered a benevolent force, oft referred to as the ‘caretakers’ of the Alps, looking after the delicate balance of the mountain range’s ecosystem and offering, by means of a low whistle, a warning to travellers of impending avalanches.

Often said to possess incredibly large feet, these winter gnomes are said to live in vast underground dwellings within the mountains. Sometimes, they are compared with yeti or other species of wild men, yet often they are more readily associated, despite the barren terrain of their home, with household spirits. They are a guiding force, guardians of nature rather than perpetrators of mischief. This in itself may just be the biggest difference between the population of the mountains and the traditional population of the forest.

Slumbering through the summer, the Barbegazi possess a strong intolerance of temperatures above zero, a sign that recent dramatic changes in climate may have significantly impacted their community. This biological disposition towards the below freezing climate of the high Alps means that the few creatures that have been taken into captivity have perished before any real findings could be passed onto academic circles.

The lack of any sort of scientific information regarding the Barbegazi leaves them in an interesting position.

Appearing decidedly human in their long robes of white, it is difficult to consider the Barbegazi as animals, magical or not. To this end the capture of these dwarfen creatures seems to have relented in post-medieval times. To the Barbegazi themselves, this is no doubt a blessing, to humanity however, it means that a detailed understanding of these mysterious guardians may never be fully in our possession.

Known to come to the rescue of human travellers lost in the snow drifts or trapped beneath the weight of an avalanche, it would appear that we, as a species, need the Barbegazi much more than they need us.

 

 

 

 

Schmutzli

[* *]

[You push back against the cold of the wall like countless others around you, to avoid the crack of the whip as each one lacerates the street ahead of the procession. Each strike of the rough cord against the stone by men in white robes with red neckerchiefs is like the crack of bones, a deafening snap that rattles the teeth in your jaws. Yet at last the sensation subsides, and the Whipfathers, as they are called, pass. Now approaches the more serious aspect of the procession, the tall bishop in his heavy mitre leaning wearily upon his shepherd’s staff as he advances. Prowling behind him is another figure, dressed in the habit of a Carmelite white friar. Yet from beneath the hood, no human face gazes out. Truly the malevolent eyes that meet yours, blood red and full of malice, are nothing short of demonic!
__
__]Like the related figures of Zwarte Piet and the Krampus, [*Schmutzli *]is a ghastly figure to behold, an inversion of pious familiarity—a devil dressed in the robes of a monk. Bound to the side of St. Nicholas, Schmutzli follows after the holy man, obliged to offer his ghastly assistance like the 72 demons of the Ars Goetia evoked by King Solomon. Yet the role of Schmutzli, originally known as Butzli, was not always conflated with the myth of St. Nicholas, and whilst still monstrous, the story surrounding this figure indicated that the character was very much a woman, rather than a monk.

The role now associated with Schmutzli was originally filled by a hideous hag named Sträggele, wife of the hunter, Türst, who, with his one-eyed dog and his ghost named Pfaffenkellnerin, led the Wild Hunt over the skies of Switzerland. As part of this procession of monsters and spirits, Sträggele, often associated with the bundles of wood later seen in possession of both Schmutzli and the Krampus, would beat down any stray children who crossed their path, and spirit them away to join the Hunt, just as Zwarte Piet takes any misbehaving children as his own.

This wild and fierce Hunt across the midwinter skies came to be represented by a procession that even now takes place in many towns and cities in Switzerland, the figures of mythology represented by costume and mask as with the procession of the Badalisc and other customs. This tradition is said to relate back to the myth of Perchta and the festivities that surround her in other European countries.

During the expansion of Christianity, the customs and rituals of this tradition were again challenged, as they were in many other towns and villages throughout the world. Sensing that the ritual of the season was too ingrained to be entirely purged, the Church thus imposed Christian themes over the old. This is not an unfamiliar story. Many festivals that are celebrated now in a secular fashion were originally pagan festivals with superimposed Christian icons, this much is known. Therefore, as the celebration of Türst’s Wild Hunt, of the striking switches of willow branches of Sträggele, receded, so their roles eventually became associated with St. Nicholas and Schmutzli.

The procession that now passes through Swiss towns is one of noise and colour, a celebration like the Lion Dance of Chinese New Year to drive away evil spirits and wicked witches; a way of controlling the supernatural, of conceiving of it as part of a very natural world.

 

 

Yukinko

[* *]

At first, you mistake the figure for a human child, the snow swirling about her hiding the unnatural glamour of her charms. You rush towards her, fearing for her safety, calling warnings of the oncoming storm, yet as you get closer and closer, you see at last the impossible purity of her appearance; pale white skin, raven black hair, a warm smile, and ice blue eyes. You stop, bewildered, and she nods in greeting to you, lifting one arm up to gesture at the falling snow as it drifts down from the grey skies, one flake at a time. Finally, you understand. This young figure, youthful as she may appear, does not need to be rescued from the elements. She [is _]of [_the elements.
__
__]The child-like [*Yukinko *]is representative of a common theme in global mythology, a sort of sprite comparative again with the tomte and snønisser, yet actually having more in common with other characters from Japanese folklore, such as the zashiki-warashi. Like her lucky counterpart, and partly due to the -ko suffix of the name, denoting the word ‘child’ in Japanese, Yukinko is oft rendered as a young girl dressed in traditional yuki mino, a conical hat and heavy jacket made of straw designed to protect from the elements.

It is in this guise that she is often claimed to be seen amidst the first snows of winter, a sign of changing weather, a reminder of the chill after the sakura has blossomed and autumn leaves have fallen.

Thematically similar to the previously discussed Yuki-onna, Yukinko is unique in her lack of malevolence. Where the yuki-onna seems either hell-bent on avenging herself upon the living, on drawing out their warmth and leaving behind her a trail of victims, or attempting to disguise her true nature and pose as a normal human woman, Yukinko appears never to present herself as anything other than what she is. She makes no effort to fit into the human understanding of the world, or to somehow disguise her nature from those who happen to catch a glimpse of her. The fact that she appears in a human form may be the only sign that she actually recognises us as the most populous species within her realm.

Never malicious or mischievous, Yukinko is simply a figure of the natural world. Even when the bitter cold proves fatal, she is no more to blame than the billowing of the winds or the rage of the ocean—she simply exists as a function of the world. It is this quality that distances her from other such personifications of seasonal change. In Yukinko, there is no intent to harm or lead astray; there is only her presence in the world.

 

 

 

 

Vetr

 

[The giant throne before you is encrusted with frost and jewels, the massive form of a great and terrible monarch slumbering within the caverns of his ice fortress. A tremble runs through your weak and feeble body, an, for the first time ever, you find yourself aware of your own mortality in the face of the terrible forces that dominate the world in which you have been imprisoned. It is hard not to respect the hideous glory and power of the aged jötunn despite the horror of his aspect. In silence, you retreat from the fortress, your pockets no heavier from the riches you had hoped to steal but failed to find.
__
__]It is not hard to guess the origins of the Norse figure of Vetr. This personification of the season is easily equated with the Greek god of the north winds, Boreas, or the Sami winter deity, Biegkegaellies, yet what makes Vetr so striking is his role as part of a hierarchy of figures predated both the Æsir and the Vanir. It would be easy from this to think of Vetr and his opposite, Sumarr, as the Norse equivalent of Titans, yet even these aged powers are represented as the second generation of a much older lineage.

Born the son of Vindsvalr, the cold air, we first hear of Vetr in the Poetic Edda when Odin, in disguise, joins company with the giants in order to discover more of how the world came about. From the speech of the wise old giant, Vafþrúðnir, we learn of Vetr’s lineage. In the Prose Edda, we hear that his kin were of a violent and ill-tempered inclination, being on somewhat bad terms with Sumarr and his father, Svásuðr.

Following this, little more is heard of the aged winter deity. It is assumed that he carries on with his job, arriving when the season cools and bringing with him the darkness and the falling snow. It is even possible that he is a driving force behind the movements of the jötunn during Ragnarök. Whilst nothing is guaranteed after the world is scorched away by the might of the fire giants in their conflict with the gods, it is possible that following the end of the old order, the rivalry between Vetr and Sumarr continues on into a new age populated by a new race of humans by Líf and Lífþrasir, the last remaining people of the original era.

If such were true then it would seem that, despite the fall of the gods, the world after the apocalypse goes on unchanged. Crisp brown leaves still fall in autumn, snow still gathers at the foot of the old oak tree in winter. After the last embers of the fall of both the Vanir and the Æsir have gone out, after the sole remaining eye of Odin sees no more, the natural world continues. What is truly damning about this ‘worst case scenario’ in Norse eschatology is that our present scenario is so much more chilling.

If human beings in the place of the absent gods were to wage Ragnarök, the realms of Vetr and Sumarr would not go unchanged. Even now, in the relative peace of the early 21st century, our seasons have shifted dramatically, the November of 2011 being one of the warmest on record.

If Líf and Lífþrasir were born today, the world they would inherit from us would not be as temperate as that of the world left them by the Norse gods.

 

 

 

 

The Holly King

 

[You travel from one kingdom to the next, leaving the ice and snow of Vetr’s realm behind to find the chill wind still blowing as you cross into the ancient wood that marks the domain of another winter ruler, a man whose head is crowned with a laurel of holly leaves. You have heard speak of this king these last few years, of his fierce battle with the opposing Oak King, of his sacrifice and rebirth, and, at once, slumbering Vetr and proud Gwyn are brought to mind. Yet this monarch of midwinter seems a more foreboding presence than you had at first supposed; a darker force whose motives you cannot ascertain. Holly and ivy prick you as you advance, yet still you push forward into the heart of the forest.
__
__]Like the Norse deity, Vetr, or the Roman Sol Invinctus, the Holly King is an archetype, a force of nature personified. Stories related to him often find their way into the mythology of other cultures, or are appended to popular characters of the time. Thus it is easy to see the conflict of the Holly King and his adversary, the Oak King, reflected in the story of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwythyr ap Greidawl, as well as the Arthurian tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

In recent times there has been a decided push within the Neopagan movement towards associating the Holly King with Father Christmas, fashioning a sort of non-Christian replacement for both the religious St. Nicholas and the more commercial Santa Claus. The latter claim gains ground when the appearance of Father Christmas is considered.

Much of what we consider to be the fundamentals of the Father Christmas aesthetic originate with John Leech’s illustration of the Ghost of Christmas Past for the original pressing of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The large man with the green robes and the crown of holly and ivy became both the blueprint for later, pre-Coca-Cola interpretations of the festive gift-giver as well as being an echo of the archetypal Holly King. The robes of green, significant in that they relate back to the Holly King’s role as a tutelary spirit of the forest, are still depicted as the traditional garb of Father Christmas in some parts of the world.

Yet if the Holly King also became later associated with the holy, it is important to remember that, prior to this, he was first translated into a symbol of the exact opposite.

The colour green in medieval Europe was primarily associated with the Devil. This was mostly a means of educating ‘the saved,’ and swaying them from former practices. Thus much of what was appealing about the old religions soon became connected with the dangers of an afterlife amidst the fires of Hell in pain and association. The other side of this is that by connecting the archetypal Holly King—as well as the Greek God, Pan—with the Devil, the former angel also became a kind of forest spirit himself. It is in this way that the Green Knight appears as both antagonistic and sympathetic long before Milton had ever put pen to paper.

In this we have the modern duality of all Christian theology encapsulated within one figure.

Originally seen as a benevolent, if not firm ruler, the Holly King has been associated not only with the Green Knight and the Devil, but also with characters such as Oberon and Herne the Hunter. He is the force of nature resplendent, not hidden, in the season of winter.

Whilst it would be easy to view him as a force of atrophy and decay, the Holly King is a champion of nature, just as much as his counterpart, the Oak King. He is the first red breasted robin in the trees of December, the seeds that are rooted deep in the soil, waiting to burst forth into saplings with the coming of spring, the slumbering bear deep within its mountain caverns.

He is the hero waiting to happen, the elder king schooling his youthful apprentice.

In this, the Holly King, and the season he represents, is as much in our favour as is the warmth of summer and the joy of spring.

 

 

 

 

Inti

[* *]

[As the woods thin, you feel the cold of the winter sun above you. Passing from the realm of the Holly King, you reach the lands of a new kingdom, and as you begin to wonder what this new land holds, you find yourself at once within a throng of people dressed in all the finery of their trade, marching across the sand and towards the central plaza of the old kingdom. Though the weather of this kingdom is warmer than before, the noise and colour of the ceremony is something you have become accustomed to. Lifting your head, you look up at the vast city to which so much of the procession is moving. At the highest point, you see a man filled with radiance, resting upon a throne. It seems to you that the light of the sun all but shines from his very being. This, you realise, is truly a kingdom of light.
__
__]The festival of Inti Raymi formerly took place during the June winter solstice of the southern hemisphere. Amongst the people of the Inca Empire, it was the highest and most important festival of all, celebrating the majesty of the sun god, Inti, a deity descended from the god of civilisation himself. Like so many festivities of the season, noise and colour abounded as the people marched through the city, celebrating an end to fasting and abstinence, and the Sapa Inca, who claimed his very lineage from Inti, watched on from his throne.

This tradition came to an abrupt end in 1535 as the Catholic Church tightened its grip on the indigenous population and attempted to bury the faith of the Incas on a more militaristic scale than the gradual seduction of Rome.

What was left was a festival that lay dormant until 1944 when it was reconstructed by a group of actors, proving popular enough to continue until the present day.

In both forms however, Inti Raymi is the celebration of Inti, the Inca sun deity. Born the son of Viracocha, who created both the universe and civilisation itself, Inti is the god of both farmers and kings, hailed during winter as the returning sun. He is often depicted by the symbol of a radiant sun with a human face, beams of light outstretched from his very being. This image can be seen in the flags of Argentina, Peru, and Uruguay.

Whilst little is known of the customs surrounding Inti save for the festival of Inti Raymi, we do know that like the Watchers, he was responsible for teaching humanity much of what they would need to survive on Earth following his order that the Inca people should construct the first city, Cuzco.

The Spanish attempt to dismantle the native Inca religion and replace it with Catholicism ultimately failed, despite the death of the last Sapa Inca, Atahualpa. The faith and the culture of the Inca religion still exists in South America today, perhaps not as robust as it once was, but like the roots of Paganism in Europe, it remains a significant part of secular culture. All that was old, all that the Church desired to destroy, is now thought of as cultural heritage, existing alongside Catholicism in much the same way that Zoroastrianism is sometimes quietly and respectfully mentioned in Iran.

The Church of the Spanish conquistadors attempted to replace the faith of one sun god with another.

They failed.

 

 

 

 

The Singing Fir Tree

[* *]

[As you depart the lands of Inti and return through the woods from whence you came, you suddenly hear an eerie sound like singing echoing through the trees. You stop dead in your tracks and listen to the sound, struggling to work out from where it originates. As you stand there, you realise that all the birds have fallen silent in respect of that ghostly voice. No more do red breasted robins chirp, no more do magpies and rooks caw; there is only the echo of that other presence. As you move on, the haunting call of that distant voice reverberates through every acre of the vast woodland.
__
__][*The Singing Fir Tree *]is a Swiss fairy story, a fable highlighting the gulf between man and the natural world.

The story begins with a woodcutter, perhaps the same woodcutter who previously cut off the heads of wolves and rescued young girls from terrible fates. As he was setting off to work, chopping down trees in order to use the wood for carving the decorations and pews of the churches of a small Swiss village within the former district of Reckingen, the woodcutter heard a beautiful, ethereal voice amidst the trees. The voice sang a song so charming, so delightful that the woodcutter felt compelled to search out the source of the tune.

At first perhaps he imagined the singer to be a woman; perhaps he entertained somewhat romantic ideals about the owner of the voice being a beautiful woman who would fall in love with him the moment she set eyes upon him. Perhaps he imagined a great many things. What he found instead was a magical fir tree, its trunk resonating with the sound of that beautiful voice, singing out loud in its alien voice.

So struck with awe was he that he rushed back to the village to relate the news to those around, telling them of the miracle—for surely it could be only that—that he had experienced. Whether the people of the village believed him or not is beside the point, what is significant is that the woodcutter became so obsessed with his miracle that he sought, and received, the right to fell the tree so that he might be able to carve it into a form that would both honour and beautify the perceived conferrer of such miracles.

The magical tree was hacked down; its branches stripped away, its bark whittled and its form carved into the likeness of the Virgin Mary. It was a fitting tribute, perhaps he thought, a miracle from Heaven translated into an icon that glorified all that was holy.

There was but one problem.

The tree never sang again.

This story has been used in recent times as a metaphor for the translation of older customs into Christian ones. As a fable from a Christian culture, this line of thinking doesn’t really hold much water, not to mention the fact that the spread of early Christianity was exactly because of its syncretic nature rather that despite of it. Yet it does gives us call to mention Jason Eisener’s 2008 short film, Treevenge, as mentioned on Final Girl Support Group.

If you ever wondered what the possible end result of the woodcutter’s mutilation of the singing fir tree might be, or indeed of the Christmas custom of cutting down trees and decorating them, then Eisener’s Treevenge, harking back to such low budget ‘video nasties’ as I Spit on Your Grave and Zombie Flesh Eaters, is a worthy investment of your time.

 

 

 

 

Skaði

[* *]

[As you pass through the winter lands, exiting the woodlands and entering into a clearing, you give pause in order to ascertain your surroundings. Looking at the impossible mountains that divide the now distant domain of Inti from the woods of the Holly King, you see a lone woman descending on skis made of wood. Her hair billows out behind her, long and auburn. There is a cap upon her head and a quiver of arrows upon her back denoting that she is, like so many others you have encountered here, a hunter. If she notices your presence in the forest below the mountains, her expression betrays no interest. Instead she simply reaches for an arrow from her quiver, sets it in her bow, and fires at some unseen prey amidst the rocks and crags. There is silence, and the, at once, the whole valley echoes with the cry of a wounded beast.
__
__][*Skaði *]is a figure in Norse mythology, originally painted as one of the jötunn and later depicted as a goddess through her marriage either to Njörðr or Ullr. Traditionally, she is depicted with skis upon her feet, and has been hailed as a goddess of snow, guardian of Scandinavia, and sometimes also of Sweden. Yet there is also another Skaði, a figure who appears in older texts who appears to be a male hunter, maybe more traditionally associated with the role later taken up by Odin. Between these two figures, we are offered a view of the manner in which archetypes associated with winter are mutable, changing from one culture to the next whilst always keeping the same theme.

She is seen in both the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda, displaying something of an animosity for Loki, who was in part responsible for the death of her father, Þjazi. It is said that she is the one who, as a precursor to Ragnarök, helps bind Loki to a rock beneath the Earth with the entrails of his own son, Nari, and sets up a snake above him, continually dripping venom, which the trickster god’s wife attempts to negate by holding up a bowl to catch the poison.

Throughout the most commonly known myths of the Norse gods and the body of work associated with the 13th century scholar and politician, Snorri Sturluson, Skaði is depicted as a fierce, if not temperate, goddess; a woman of great charms and grace. Yet it is in the older myths, collected again in the 13th century and known as the Völsungasaga, that we encounter a different Skaði, a young man who argues with Sigi, son of Odin, over the death of his servants.

Little is known of this other Skaði, save for his presence in the story, yet it is quite clear that both characters stem from the same point of origin, as possibly does the god Ullr, with whom the female Skaði was paired in later myths. As with many themes and characters in our shared mythology, it goes without saying that there has been some amount of evolution in the path of the narrative over the course of time. It is more than likely that in Proto Indo-European myths, both the male and female Skaði, as well as Ullr, were all joined as one distinct Ur-Skaði character. What we do not know, and what we may never know, is the reason for why these distinct traits came to be represented by different characters

However, regardless of her origin, what is clear is that Skaði, whilst seemingly modern in her association with skiing, is actually one of the oldest deities in any European pantheon and a wise guardian to request protection of for those of you wishing to holiday at certain resorts this season—just as long as you watch out for impossibly large and vindictive wolves and serpents mistaking you for a particular patron of the art.

 

 

 

 

 

Cailleach

[* *]

[As you chart the descent of that lone hunter, movement atop the mountains suddenly catches your eyes, and, looking up, you see a gigantic figure striding along, using the peaks of the mountains as stepping stones. To your horror, you realise that the figure is a hideous old woman, bent over and carrying lumber in one arm, her proportions so massive that you wonder if she even notices the habitat of the world below her. Her features are worn and lined, weathered by the very elements themselves. Where her staff touches the ground, the very soil seems to freeze over, the terrain becoming more treacherous, whilst in her apron, you see the wicked claw of a massive hammer used for you know not what. Shuddering with terror, you turn from those mountains of madness and flee!
__
__][*Cailleach *]is an ancient deity in both Scottish and Irish mythology, the proclaimed mother of the entire pantheon of gods. An imposing figure, Cailleach is something like the jötunn of Norse mythology, or the Titans of the Greeks. She is represented as a colossal, and, for the most part, indifferent old hag, stomping about the landscapes of Scotland and Ireland, her feet shaping the nations by merit of her footfalls. Being a goddess of the bitter winter, it is said that if the weather is fair on the 1st February, then the following winter will be extremely savage. Conversely, if the weather is poor, then the winter will be mild. This is said because if bad weather is evident, then it is assumed Cailleach is slumbering in her cave by light of her fire, however if it is clear, then she is out roaming the mountains in search of firewood to store up for the next season.

Whilst recent Neopagan movements have struggled to ensure that potential participants in recreated rituals with tenuous links to the original traditions find ‘[something of beauty’ _]in Cailleach, it is hard to really see how. This aged force of nature is not a guardian of human civilisation, nor is she particularly interested in the lives of those who offer praise. She is a patron of nothing but the hills and mountains, the frostbite and ill winds of the season, and the slumber of hibernating beasts. Often depicted as a hag, her hair matted, teeth missing and her pallor the blue of decomposition, Cailleach is not a goddess you may wish to attract the attention of. To quote Philip K. Dick, [“Whom the gods notice they destroy.” _
__
__]As much as some of the other deities we have recently encountered, Cailleach is nature personified, a guardian of the cold months in which the land we dwell within is it its most inhospitable. Whilst some may speculate that the goddess is connected to the ‘loathly lady’ figure seen in European mythology—specifically in stories relating to Sir Gawain, who, along with his battle with the Green Knight seems to be the character most associated with older traditions—there is little evidence for the theory. It may be nice to imagine that Cailleach is in fact a hypostasis of the Irish midsummer goddess, Áine, but it is unlikely.

Cailleach is a force in and of herself, and, as such, she is very much a force to be reckoned with.

 

 

 

 

 

‘Obby ‘Oss

[* *]

[As you flee the towering giantess, you find your way barred by a tremendous black horse, its face demonic, fashioned almost like a skull. Its hooves stamp upon the frozen ground, an, with every crash of its feet, so the frost thaws and flowers blossom. Yet despite the beast’s well-meaning intentions regarding the forest of the Holly King and the wildlife that inhabits it, you cannot truly believe that it feels the same about your presence. To your right, is an opening in the earth; you have no choice. As the beast lowers its head and charges you, you dive desperately out of the way.
__
__]Whilst, like the Chinese Nián, the Cornish ‘Obby ‘Oss is often seen as a herald of summer, its place here amongst our pantheon of winter spectres and deities is significant due to the similarity in the traditions surrounding it and those that take place during Christmas time.

Located primarily in areas of Cornwall and Somerset, though with certain thematic links to traditions in Poland, Wales, and other parts of Europe, the ‘Obby ‘Oss is best known from the celebrations of the village of Padstow, which possesses an elaborate ritual, despite the lack of understanding regarding its origins.

The ‘Oss itself is a fearsome beast, a creature with a massive head and trailing cloak who snatches up any women in the street and subjects them to the kind of molestation that seems to be a key theme in the celebrations of English villages; the kind of celebrations that British Lion Films’ 1973 classic, The Wicker Man, made us all really nervous about. This interference, whilst apparently playful, is inferred to grant ‘luck’ (re: fertility) to any maiden ensnared by the beast, a scenario which suddenly makes the beatings of the Krampus and the Perchten seem infinitely more preferable.

On May Day, following the appearance of several younger ‘Osses operated by children, the two main ‘Osses of Padstow—one an older relic of possibly Pagan times, suitably named “Old ‘Obby ‘Oss,” and the other a more recent and sober beast originating in the 19th century and named “Blue Ribbon ‘Oss”—emerge from their respective stables. Despite the apparent restraint of the Blue Ribbon ‘Oss, both stables are in fact buildings representative of their duality; the Old ‘Oss emerging from the Golden Lion Inn, whilst the Blue Ribbon ‘Oss hails from the Padstow Institute on Market Street.

The two beasts are then led through the streets in opposing processions similar to the way in which the wise old Badalisc is paraded through distant Andrista.

Upon their meeting, the two beasts perform an elaborate dance about the Maypole, as the villagers sing songs in celebration of the end of winter and the beginning of summer.

Whilst the ‘Osses of Cornwall may not be as closely associated with the festive season as some of our other canon, it is important to remember the manner in which winter is thus connected to summer. Through the ‘Obby ‘Oss we can see echoes of not only many a Christmas tradition, but also the very roots of some of the most significant traditions in our modern culture.

 

 

 

 

 

Kallikantzaroi

[* *]

[Within the hole in the earth, you find yourself confronted by the foulest smelling populace; devils with faces like dogs carrying with them the stench of goats. They look at you with vindictive red eyes but do not appear to be interested in your comings and goings, instead remaining focused upon the necessity of putting their vicious claws and sharpened teeth to work on the roots of some great tree that extends beneath the soil. Above, you hear the thunder of the aged goddess and the rogue horse, and you remain very still, curling up into a ball within the darkness and waiting for the danger to pass, as, all about you, the goblin populace of the world continues its sole task of gnawing the roots of the tree.
__
__]The [*Kallikantzaroi *]are unique in their place in Greek mythology in that their existence seems to owe more to the cosmology of Nordic paganism than the mythology often associated with Zeus and Heracles, Medusa and the Minotaur. Whilst descriptions of these malevolent creatures vary from region to region, some claiming that the Kallikantzaroi are chimerical in nature, whilst others chuse to depict them as more traditional goblins of European mythology, one thing is certain; they are unnatural and violent predators intent on disrupting the natural order of things.

Like the many and varied devils that populate the nine circles of the Christian abyss, the Kallikantzaroi seek to spread chaos and turmoil throughout the world. They spend the year beneath the soil, gnawing and sawing at the roots of the World Tree, forever seeking to sever it, and bring the world crashing down around them. Yet on Christmas Day, at last they are permitted to venture up from the world below, and forgetting their labour, they arise en masse to trouble humanity with their cruel pranks and wicked humour.

In total, the Kallikantzaroi are allowed twelve days above ground. On the 6th January, as Christmas turns to Epiphany, they are driven back beneath the dirt as the sun once more resumes its movement across the skies and hastens on first toward spring and eventually summer. Upon their return, these evil gnomes discover that the damage they have wrought to the aged tree upon which the world is suspended has healed, and they must begin their labour all over again.

Depicted as the filthiest of creatures, goblins swilling dirt and maggots to sustain them beneath the darkness of the loam, the Kallikantzaroi are a race easily outwitted. Unlike the trolls and faeries of other cultures, the Kallikantzaroi are easily distracted from their mischievous intents primarily by leaving a colander upon the door step of a home in an area where they are known to roam. Apparently, this is because the Kallikantzaroi will be inclined to attempt to count the holes, yet they cannot count above the number two. According to popular myth, this is because the number three is a holy number, representing the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; to count three and above would strike the Kallikantzaroi dead on the spot.

One danger of the season is that children born between the period of the twelve days of Christmas run the very real risk of being transformed, like those found to be of ill favour by Zwarte Piet, into goblins. In order to prevent this, binding the child in garlic and straw, and singeing the toes are the only manner in which the Kallikantzaroi can be dissuaded from taking the baby to join them in the darkness.

A very real threat of the Christmas season, there is nothing benevolent about the Kallikantzaroi yet, like many other characters, they are often depicted in processions leading up to the celebrations of Epiphany.

 

 

 

 

Tom Bawcock

[* *]

[Having waited the longest time beneath the soil, you eventually decide to move on past the brusque, vindictive goblins, travelling as far as you can beneath the surface of the world, until, at last, you see daylight filtering down, and hear the low moan of the ancient ocean. Rising up from the grave of the malevolent Kallikantzaroi, you feel the cold wind upon your face for the first time since your descent. Taking a moment to look around, you see the forest far behind you, the mountains now shrouded in cloud. Before you lays the tumultuous ocean, an, upon those rough waters, you spy a tiny vessel.
__
__]The story of Tom Bawcock is another feature of Cornish folklore, one specifically related to the village of Mousehole, often renowned for its festive displays of Christmas lights.

Despite the lack of specific dates surrounding the story, it is probable that the events of Tom Bawcock’s adventure took place sometime in the Dark Ages, though there are also frequent references to the possibility of the story being far older, and potentially related to a Pagan ceremony of some sort. The trouble with this is that there is always a possibility of such things being related to pre-Christian calendar events, and that people are often too keen to roll out such a notion simply as an excuse to apply the same old tired tropes to any story or character with enough traction; Robin Hood, King Arthur, Tom Bawcock, all accompanied by a soundtrack by Enya or Clannad, and the blessing of some token forest spirit of other.

Because of this, I am keen to portray Tom Bawcock as a human figure, rather than a mythical one. If Tom considered anything of the afterlife, then it was probably little in relation to the enormity of the task he undertook.

The story is thus: during a period of intense starvation, when Mousehole was rocked by storms and heavy rains that essentially isolated the village from the outside world, a fisherman named Tom came to the simple conclusion that to die trying was far better than not to try at all.

On the 23rd December, in foul weather and against the advice offered him, Tom rigged his tiny fishing vessel, and sailed out onto the raging sea. The small fishing boat disappeared.

Day turned to night and Tom was not seen.

The storm raged all night, and yet as dawn slowly broke, Tom’s tiny vessel appeared once more on the waves, a triumphant cry rising up that so earned Tom his suffix of Bawcock due to his association with morning and the call of the cockerel.

Within that tiny vessel, Tom brought with him a catch of fish so large that it was able to feed the village for an entire month, which, conveniently, was just how long the storm lasted.

To celebrate the occasion, the people of Mousehole named the 23rd as Tom Bawcock’s Eve, baking a pie filled with fish, their heads lifted up towards the skies, eggs, and potatoes, a delicacy so named the stargazy pie in his honour. Imagine if you will a sort of toad-in-the-hole, with the sausages supplanted by entire pilchards, and you should have a good enough idea of how the [_stargazy pie _]appears.

An additional story relating to this pie is that whilst apparently roaming the world, the Devil crossed over from Devon and headed into Cornwall, he saw Tom Bawcock’s pie in Mousehall, and deciding that the Cornish would eat [_anything _]in a pie, retreated, possibly for fear that his own tender flesh might be next on the menu where he to make too much mischief in the small fishing village.

Tom Bawcock’s Eve is celebrated with procession and noise like many other occasions of the winter calendar, and, as such, it is easy to see this festival as another occasion possibly related to the parade of colour necessary to keep evil spirits—and tumultuous storms—at bay during the bleak midwinter months.

 

 

 

 

The White Hart

[* *]

[Still with your back to the forest, you sense a strange and yet suddenly familiar presence behind you. You turn slowly and find yourself confronted with the most majestic of animals, its body covered in soft, white fur, royal antlers rising up from its crown, its eyes full of patience and grace. For a moment, your heart seems to stop beating in your chest, a sensation of wonder filling you at the sight of this magnificent animal. Here before you is the focus of the endless hunt, the king of the woodland. Here before you is the true benefactor of all humanity.
__
__]The White Hart is a distinct and powerful symbol in both medieval mythology and pre-Christian faith. Signifying purity, the hart was often the focus of the hunt, described as the king of the forest. The white hart, in contrast, was also noted as a symbol for Christ. There is in fact one such story in which the Roman general, Placidus was hunting a white hart only to find himself confronted with a vision of Christ between its antlers. From this point on, he converted to Christianity and was given the name Eustachius by fellow saints, Agapitus and Theopistus. The Orthodox Church continues to venerate him, along with several other saints, on the 13th December as part of the Commemoration of the Holy Martyrs including Eustrates, Auxentius, Eugene, Mardarius, Orestes, and the Virgin Lucia.

Used as a symbol of the child king Richard II, who also had Christ-like qualities—at least as far as he himself was reputedly concerned—and also the subject of the equally festive failed rebellion of the Epiphany Rising, the white hart was seen as a messenger from the realms beyond. To the Celts, the animal appeared in relation to Gwyn ap Nudd’s realm of Arawn, and amidst large areas of woodland, was potentially a reminder to hunters that they had left the familiarity of the human realm, and willing or not, had trespassed on the ground of another world. In this sense, the white hart became a symbol of taboo, as well as possibly serving the role of psychopomp to wandering hunters lost amongst the trees.

The white hart was, unlike traditional stags, not hunted for its meat or fur, but rather it was hunted due to the rarity and holiness of the beast. In one of those confused justifications humanity often likes to offer up for killing something of beauty, the white hart was pursued due to respect of the animal. In this role we see it take on a significant part in Arthurian mythology as a turning point in the tale and the indicator that begins the quest for the Holy Grail, and in Hungarian mythology, where a specific stag named Csodaszarvas was responsible for leading Hunor and Magor back to realms once held by their supposed ancestor, Attila the Hun.

For me personaly, there is a significant comparison to be made between the white hart and both the Baí Zé of Chinese culture, and the qilin, known to readers of Jorge Luis Borges as the ‘Chinese unicorn.’

It is a symbol of temperance and calm, of the otherworldly aspect of the natural world and of the species with which we coexist.

This Christmas, if you cannot stomach the notion of further commentary about a young man raised in an Essene community and offered gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold by passing Persian royalty, if you find that you need a reason to spread good will to your neighbours and friends, then perhaps, like Richard II, you should also fly the standard of the white hart.

If you feel you need justification in order to celebrate peace on Earth, then the white hart is the best example I can offer.

 

[* *]

 

2012

[* *]

 

Mammoth

 

[The beast is colossal, you think, your heart trembling. Far greater than some of the befuddled reptiles you have preyed upon since the snow began to fall. You shiver, an ever present fear of the encroaching cold threatening to overtake you. A beast such as this lumbering, lost creature could feed you for an age—and its coat would surely be enough to replace the tattered rags you have bound about yourself. The monster is wounded, you note, one of its curling tusks splintered and fractured. Though there is but one of you, the animal is also alone. The difference in size is vast, yet you are both desperate, both weathered by the elements. The outcome rests simply upon which of you is the most desperate. Lifting up your staff, you prepare yourself.
__
__]In 1946, Monsieur Gallon, a Frenchman who had worked within the Russian coastal village of Vladivostok, claimed that he had once been approached by a trapper in the 1920s who claimed to know of a locale amidst the forests of the taiga where massive furred elephants still roamed.

The idea is somewhat reminiscent of the work of Victorian phantasy, or of the latter work of New England’s most celebrated weird fiction writer, Howard Phillips Lovecraft. To imagine that somewhere, within the wild forests and the frozen wastes uninhabitable by humans, ancient monsters from our distant past still roam remains one of the most enticing ideas for authors and illustrators of the genre.

Like the exploration of space or the deep oceans, there is something thrilling about the idea that human cruelty, global warming or natural selection have not done away with such relics of the past as the mighty woolly mammoth.

Dying out mostly during the Pleistocene era with but a small dwarf populace enduring until 1700 BC, the woolly mammoth was an ancient relative of modern elephants, an example of the vast megafauna that once stalked the frozen wastes of the planet. Both Neanderthal man and our own ancestors preyed upon these beasts, using their bones for shelter, their coats for clothing and their flesh for sustenance.

Whilst it is speculated that these tundra dwelling beasts were killed off in part by the end of the Ice Age, their demise was prompted by an increase in global temperature due to the unfettered spread of birch trees, a former staple of their diet. In this manner the loss of the species resulted in a world more acclimatised for those who had helped in their extinction by hunting them.

As a child with only the vaguest understanding of how the Ice Age occurred, I held the poor woolly mammoths entirely responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs. It was a simple matter of reptiles and lizards versus mammals and birds with very little in-between. It is thus with some guilt that I write this entry, knowing that whilst mammoths were a primarily peaceable breed of animals, I still am unable to shake the fact that I much preferred the more exciting, and infinitely more volatile, dinosaurs that failed to weather the Ice Age as they did.

Reading now of the potential of reawakening the great mammoth from its ancient slumber of extinction, I have somewhat mixed feelings. Certainly the act of bringing back a race we have failed to accommodate is an amazing notion, but I can’t help but wonder what kind of a world such a returning mammoth would inherit? Where would such a beast dwell and what life would it be capable of leading?

In terms of mythology, it should be noted that early Siberian cultures once believed the remains of mammoths to be the corpses of giant mole monsters who perished whilst breaking the surface.

Whilst I may have reservations at the idea of bringing back such a vast wintry monster into today’s climate, I have absolutely no qualms in recommending someone create a monster movie in which giant moles battle mammoths as soon as funding can be raised.

As a final aside, it should also be mentioned that [_Mammoth _]is the name of a track performed by AKB48 Team K as part of their 4th Stage concerts.

 

 

 

Ullr

 

[In the distance beyond the felled beast, beyond the blood that spatters the pale downy hair of your chest and the ragged cloak of furs you wear, there stands a figure in the swirling snow. You stop in your tracks, willing your heartbeat to slow, hoping that the same snow that obscures your view of the other will also disguise you. Yet there is no mistaking the fallen mammoth on the ground before you. If he sees you, then he knows you for what you are—a hunter. A moment passes, your heart still thunders. The figures stares back at you, his beard stained by the snow, his garb strange and colourful. On his feet he wears heavy boots bound to carven bone or fallen trees, you cannot tell which, whilst upon his back is another branch, bent and threaded at both ends with a thin wire. It is a weapon you are not familiar with, a tool for which you have no use for, yet despite this, you know that he too is also a hunter. He looks on at you for another long moment, and then, amongst the falling snow, he turns and wordlessly departs.
__
__]Little is known of the Norse deity, Ullr. Despite his presence in the Prose Edda as one of the Æsir, and his appearance in the 12th century work, Gesta Danorum as a cunning and wise wizard, the details of Ullr’s origins are steeped in mystery.

Cognate with deities in German paganism and old English folklore, Ullr appears to have been significant long before the war between the two factions of the Norse deities, the Vanir and the Æsir.

Often depicted on skis fashioned either from bone or wood, Ullr was considered both a craftsman and a hunter. Depicted carrying a drawn bow and arrow in stone carvings featuring what may be his likeness, there is also the suggestion in the Prose Edda that he was the craftsman responsible for the woodland shrine, Ýdalir where he dwelt amidst the animals of the forest.

This idea of hunters living alongside their prey is typical of associated myths, an idea that is striking in the suggestion that whilst such an idea was intended to attest to his communion with the natural world, he was also a force responsible for the death of its inhabitants. The duality of his role, often bypassed in modern interpretation of the presence of noble forest gods, is something like the idea of Christ descending to Earth to dwell with humans and spread the word of His Father whilst simultaneously thinning the ranks.

Unpleasant at best, morally repugnant at worst.

Yet the context of these ancient myths originate within are not societies with the modern philosophical issue of animal rights in mind, and as such it is unfair for us to judge others by our own standards, especially when the conditions of their world were so different.

If the root of Ullr as a hunter god are true then in his craft and tenacity, he represents much of what served as the foundation of human society; he was a god of gathering food, of fashioning tools, and more importantly, he was a god of invention.

With skis bound to his feet to grant him greater movement, Ullr was a god dwelling within the natural world and actively working against it. Unlike Odin the wise, unlike the elemental faeries or djinn, Ullr was a very human presence in the pantheon of the Æsir, a deity who fashioned tools based on the necessity of the tasks he faced in everyday life.

It is no wonder that both Ullr and his home within Ýdalir were oft associated with the pliant yew tree.

Whilst it is difficult to accept without laughing that the Norse people had a god who traversed tundra and forest on a pair of wooden skis, we again do Ullr a disservice by judging him outside the context of his own realm.

His appearance may seem absurd now, and his relevance may seem insignificant, yet if Ullr is not accurately recorded in the legends of the ancient Danes and Swedes, it is simply because his role is rooted in needs so antiquarian that he was already old before the recording of such tales.

A hunter he may be, but it is important to remember that amidst those snowy mountain peaks, in winter and in spring, Ullr was perhaps one of the first tool makers our fledgling society knew.

 

[* *]

 

Pelzebock

 

[You traverse the tundra, your tracks covered by the endless fall of the snow. The wool of the mammoth clings to you, a veil against the elements, yet it does not protect you entirely from the bitter cold. With every step you take, every league you cover, your muscles begin to ache with greater intensity. It does not take long before you attract attention. At first you think you are being stalked by a dire wolf and its ilk, yet soon enough you realise that the strange figure is keeping pace with you on your journey, and that the footprints it leaves are not those of the wolf, but rather the cloven hoof of another beast entirely. It does not speak to you, instead it keeps marching forward, carrying on its shoulders a bag from which you occasionally see movement, your hearing suggesting the faintest stifled cry or snuffle from within. You do not voice concern or alarm, do not question its purpose, yet you are thankful for the heaviness of the falling snow between you, obscuring your view. After what seems the longest time, the creature turns away upon a forking path, heading away from you and towards the sharp incline of the mountains ahead. It bids you no farewell, offers no advice, but as you turn your head, squinting into the grey light ahead, you imagine you can see a tail swishing in agitation from its behind, the pale and fragile hand of a child reaching out from the sack and the image of a half seen face. You shudder and continue on your way.
__
__]The Pelzebock, like many of the pagan cast appropriated by Christianity for use in its myths, is fashioned in the same likeness as the Krampus and other descendants of the Greek deity, Pan.

Covered in heavy, black fur, its head crowned by forked horns, the Pelzebock is a goat devil who accompanies St. Nicholas on his journey from town to town, village to village.

Again, as with the other characters of European folklore that often accompany St. Nicholas—from the wicked farmhand, Père Fouettard to the devilish Zwarte Pieten—the Pelzebock follows after the saint, tamed by heavy chains, flicking its forked tongue out as its eyes cast about in search of ill-behaved children.

Within the heavy sack upon its back is a mixture of sweets and branches from the birch tree. For children that had been well behaved, sweets and biscuits would be begrudgingly offered, yet for those that had been naughty, St. Nicholas would turn away as the Pelzebock beat them with birch switches, or, in the most severe of cases, bundle them up in its sack for a later, more dreadful fate.

As the ritual evolved, spreading from the Alpine cultures and making its way to America, so the traditions became intermarried, and in some American interpretations, specifically in Pennsylvania where Pelzebock has become the Belsnickel, the foul beast and the noble saint are often further accompanied by two angels solely concerned with the rewarding of good children.

These angels, their roles often played by children in the tradition of the community, are again related to an older ritual, having once been the gift-giving Christchild, now divided into feminine and masculine alter-egos.

Like Moloch, the Pelzebock’s heritage dates back to cultures far older than those recorded in the Bible. Reputedly, its name is a corruption of the Philistine deity presiding over the city of Ekron, a god vilified by Judeo-Christianity as Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies. Yet it is likely that whatever Pelzebock was before that was very different, a fertility deity perhaps, or a forest god later conflated with a popular devil during the expansion of the Christian missionaries into the Alps.

However, if we imagine for one moment that whatever the Pelzebock once was during those dark days before there were words enough to record its origins, within the same regions where the mountains met the wastelands as the mighty mammoth, then the two may somehow be interlinked.

The mammoth consumed birch trees whilst the Pelzebock fashioned tools from these self-same trees. Could the demise of one species of monster have paved the way for the rise of another?

Even more enticing is the idea that the mammoth did not fade away, that in some fashion those tusks became horns, and as they rose up on two legs, they retreated further and further away from contact with the nation of people encroaching upon their land.

In the mountains and the distant valleys, it is easy to imagine that a beast once hunted might learn the tools of a trade used to dispatch it, that maybe even a passing hunter deity might have instructed them.

Though it may not be clear, there is a world of possibility here.

Though it may not be comfortable, the Pelzebock might have known us for longer than we care to admit.

 

 

[* *]

 

Vogel Gryff

 

[The days lengthen, the space between the moment of your killing and the moment you now inhabit like a slack noose waiting to pull upon your neck, to snap you back into the air, and send your body jerking and shuddering on its way to oblivion. Eventually you reach a river where, despite the cold, the ice has cracked and the current carries on downward from the forests of the horizon. You wait patiently for some time, and then, much to your surprise and trepidation, you spy a raft of felled wood drifting down the moving water. Upon the wood stands a figure clothed in greenery despite the brutality of the endless winter. He does not move or gesture, he merely remains stoic upon his raft, a living tree standing sentry on the corpses of fallen brethren. So transfixed are you by the sight of the solemn green man that you fail to notice the massive bulk of the lion, its fur weighted by the fall of snowflakes. Your body tenses as it passes, and yet for all its ferocity, it does not turn towards you, its heavy footfalls leaving depressions along the bank of the river. At last, after its passing, you finally see a third figure, a monstrous chimera, part lion and part eagle walking upon its hind claws, its form clad in mysterious plates not of stone but of some harder substance that seems not to yield to the fall of the snow, and reflects your own visage back at you like the surface of the flowing water. Your eyes widen in fear as the beast approaches, its beak wide, its heavy tongue rolling back as it caws loudly, announcing its presence. Despite your exhaustion, you flee before its coming.
__
__]Vogel Gryff is a unique form of griffin, one of three noble beasts intended to represent the Swiss city of Basel, specifically the area along the right bank of the Rhine known as Kleinbasel.

Accompanied by the wild man, an ancient fertility deity, and the fierce lion, Vogel Gryff is welcomed into the city in mid-January as part of the New Year festivities named in its honour.

Dressed in chainmail, the great beast is the last of the three symbolic creatures to arrive, its appearance followed by a procession much like the one that follows after the Badalisc in Val Camonica in Italy.

Sharing the same mannerisms as the festivities surrounding Epiphany and Twelfth Night, the Vogel Gryff festival is a time of celebration, an occasion when the culture of the city can be boasted of, and when merchants can ply festive wares and speciality foods to the large crowds gathering to watch the procession and enjoy the festivities.

In this it is not entirely dissimilar to such commercially planned organisation of midwinter fares, such as Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park within Central London, an event which boasts its own sort of Green Man, albeit in the shape of a talking, mechanical tree.

Alas, there can be no mention of the Winter Wonderland event in Brent Cross Shopping Centre in NW4.

Although there is a 20 minute panto performance of [Robinson Crusoe.
__
__]Whilst echoing the fertility dances and festivals of older traditions, the commercial aspect of the Vogel Gryff is not entirely without historical basis.

Like the mythological griffin itself, a creature that reportedly hoarded gold—a fact that makes the beast a herald of the city of London also—the three mysterious figures of the festival represent three distinct guilds who were responsible for purchasing the area of Kleinbasel from a wealthy Bishop following the construction of a bridge that joined the area with the previously established city.

The area swiftly rose to prominence and affluence, a home to the elite craftsmen of the area and their families, guilty of more than a little snobbery in regards to their relations with their cousins across the bridge.

Imagine a comparison with once affluent Southwark suddenly finding itself free of the Church yet married to the economy of a walled city beyond its own bridge, eager to retain its exclusive status whilst also to partake of the riches beyond that Roman wall.

Thus it is that we find that the folklore of a foreign city, when de-constructed and stripped of the imagery of beasts and deities, is not entirely dissimilar from our own past.

Skiron

 

As you flee into the bitter snow, you find the north-westerly winds pushing back against you, stinging your face and chest. The image of the chimera and its grotesque companions still haunts your mind; the blood of the mammoth still stains your hands. Madness stirs like a snake in the nest of your head, uncoiling slowly, languidly, and filling your belly with terror and dread. For every step you take, every footstep into the heavy snow, so the bitter winds lash out against you with renewed contempt. Above your head, you imagine a dark, bearded figure clad in dark furs, pouring the endless torment of these ill winds down upon you, washing over you. Your tongue is swollen, your teeth chattering, and, at the last, your body relents. You topple down, your legs giving out beneath you and driving you down headfirst into the snow where it burns your face with its chill, sets nerve endings on fire with its maddening cold. You feel it against your face, seeping into your skin, pushing itself against you, endlessly reacting against the flesh of your sturdy frame; you feel the endless weather’s assault upon you, and then your spirit deserts you. Blissfully, you are driven from your own form.

 

Skiron, known to the Romans as Corus, was a minor Greek deity presiding over the northwest wind. Described as a heavy set, bearded man, he is oft depicted with a huge cauldron, pouring down the winter over the last three months of spring.

 

As Corus, whilst identifiably the same character, he also bears testament to the pre-Olympian pantheon of the great Roman Empire, a member of that cluster of deities presiding over the wind who were later combined with their Greek counterparts to present an expanded gathering of elementals; an amalgamation of the best efforts of both cultures to personify and thus understand the shifting seasons that affected them.

 

Along with Kaikias, the god of the north east winds, Skiron was often neglected in significance as the importance of Boreas rose, a situation which has resulted in the lack of preservation of information regarding the specific myths and legends surrounding this winter herald deity.

 

In the few remaining recollections of Skiron’s presence culled from a variety of regions, he appears in different ways and is possessed with different motivations. To the Athenians, he was an intelligent character, blowing over the sharp rocks of the cliffs and rocks specifically off the coast of Megara. It is due to this that there is speculation that the original figure of Skiron was initially associated with a member of Megara’s royal family, most probably a deified prince, or relative of some aged king.

 

Other tales however, portray him as a thief and robber, bitter and resentful of the men who labour beneath his pouring cauldron.

 

The single most striking story of Skiron relates to the place from whence the deity possibly takes his name, the Skironidae Rocks, now known as Kakia Skala in Crete.

 

It is Theseus, hero of the labyrinth and conqueror of the mighty Minotaur who finally encountered Skiron as a bandit inhabiting these treacherous cliffs.

 

He is described as a giant of a man, a potential Nephilim armed with a heavy ax, a bandit who would waylay travellers and humiliate them by forcing them to wash his dirty feet. Once his victims were subjugated and had acceded to his demands, Skiron would kick them from the edge of the cliff once their task was complete, sending them down into the jaws of a giant turtle that laid in wait for them.

 

Quite what the relationship between Skiron and the monstrous turtle was remains unknown.

 

It is tempting to cast about for a reason, to speculate that the turtle was in fact a tortoise and that somehow this vindictive and bitter giant and the tortoise were in collusion. If we are to assume this, then we may also infer that Skiron might have been a servant of the famed Black Tortoise of the North featured in Taoist legend, long before his redemption by Xuánwǔ. Whatever the case, in this guise, Skiron was reputedly responsible for the death of many innocent victims, and, sensing his cruel nature, Theseus was able to dodge the kick that would have sent him to his death and instead, Skiron was dispatched in his place.

 

Perhaps in this way, Skiron became a better man, the man remembered by the Athenians. Perhaps dying at the hands of the Black Tortoise allowed him in death to atone for his sins as a function of the elements he once served.

 

All of this is but supposition.

 

We do not know the true origins of Skiron, we do not know his lineage or to whom he was patron. However, as a resident of North West London, I can surely attest to his bitter presence on these cold mornings as his cauldron spills out chills from leafy Hampstead to distant Harlesden, where Dracula once hoped to reside.

 

The story of Skiron’s name and his original intentions may have been lost, yet this winter deity still seemingly numbers amongst us.

 

[* *]

 

Le Père Noël

 

[You are only just conscious of the presence of another; strong arms lifting you up from where you have fallen amidst the snow. Your feet drag through the dirt, a trail behind you as you feel yourself lifted up into the air and placed gently upon the back of some pack animal of sorts, the likes of which you cannot identify. Time passes and you are too weak to make any sort of protest or offer any kind of thanks, all you can feel is the sway of your maudlin form upon the animal’s back, the feel of rough furs and cloth upon your body to shield you from the endless fall of the snow. There is nothing but the course of this unknown journey and your slow descent and surface from mindless slumber. As the animal moves, you imagine that the presence of your rescuer, your saviour, is muttering unknown meanings to you, his words spoken in a strange, flowing language that you do not comprehend. Despite your lack of understanding, your addled mind still struggles to perceive, to find some kind of intent in the words of the stranger, some hint at the fate that awaits you. At the very last, your eyes slowly open and you realise that the coarse fur of the beast that carries you is a donkey of sorts. Your attention moves to your fellow traveller, and alongside you, you glimpse a man in a heavy, black robe with a flowing white beard. You think to ask questions of him yet too easily, you once more are claimed by the need for slumber.
__
__]Le Père Noël remains the French name for Father Christmas despite, like much of Europe, a shift in favour of the imagery generated by American interests.

Originally a borderline character, a vague interpretation of St. Nicholas who played second fiddle to the more specific imagery of the Nativity at the heart of Christmas celebrations, it is hard to argue against the fact that the American Santa Claus did not give meaning to poor Père Noël.

Despite protests in Dijon, Burgundy, in 1951—an occasion upon which a figure dressed in mimicry of Santa Claus was burnt in the town centre and vilified as a heretic acting against Christian beliefs—the most significant accusation against the American Santa Claus, and as such, the primary argument [_for _]Le Père Noël, was that Santa Claus was a pagan icon whereas the native French original was a true Christian icon.

It is easy to look back on such events with a wry sense of irony, especially given the wider information available to us and a broader understanding of the symbolism significant at Christmas and the cultivation of the St. Nicholas mythology. However, at the time, it must have felt very much like the townsfolk of Dijon had swapped one form of cultural oppression for another.

Travelling in the company of a modest donkey named Gui—a beast whose presence is evocative of Christ’s journey into the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and the pagan significance of mistletoe and ivy, [_gui _]being French for the former plant—Père Noël’s gifts were often modest and humble.

Where the modern Santa Claus has become significant in the acquisition by children of modern luxury goods, Père Noël would bring little more than fruit and a small gift; a token offering rather than the specific requests of any one child. It was only after the end of the Second World War and the ever spreading reach of American culture accelerated by the abrupt contact between the old world and the new that Père Noël and Santa Claus became aligned.

As with his German counterpart, Le Père Noël was also accompanied by a servant, the evil Le Père Fouettard, a former butcher or innkeeper responsible for the death of several children. Together, the two Pères came to represent a didactic trend conveying both pagan and Judeo-Christian sentiments of duality through the morality parents; they became a means to instruct children. This duality is a sentiment not mirrored in the original Hebrew mythology, as read from the pre-modern viewpoint of the Book of Job, but rather one that has become increasingly adopted through the influence and impact of Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism, and Taoism on Western thought.

Examples of when paganism and Christianity might be considered arguably out of balance would be the ancient Greek cult of Dionysus, or maybe, as feared by the elders of Dijon, the notion of St. Nicholas without Christ.

The contradiction, as with all mythology, is implicit in the meaning.

Yet whilst much of Le Père Noël’s presence has been conflated with Santa Claus, the latter even adopting the former’s name, it is worth noting that which made the former so significant.

Despite the pressures of modern day commercialism, despite the triteness of the sentiment, it really is the thought that counts. This is a lesson perhaps all of us can learn from this ancient French forefather of this modern Santa.

 

 

[* *]

 

The Snowshoe Hare

 

[You sit upon wood carved into shape by the use of tools and claws you cannot understand, watching the bearded man in the black robes as he sits the other side of you upon a similarly felled tree. Before you, he presents a collection of pale leaves bound together, illuminated with the illustrations of beasts and foes you have seen etched upon walls by those who passed before you. He speaks in a strange language, and his abode is not a cave but rather an enclave of bent trees, their shapes again seemingly warped to his will. In the corner of his wooden enclave there is fire—pure, unrivalled fire, the like of which you have never seen burning within a forest! Over this fire, he heats water of all things, adding herbs and spices, and offers it to you in a thin pot like the shell of a fruit or a hollowed stone. You sip with hesitation, yet he encourages you. Outside the wooden space in which he resides, the donkey that carried you here has its own home; another carved wooden space filled with dirt and straw. Around the mouth of these areas you glimpse small animals, their eyes large, their legs long and their slender bodies covered with soft, white fur like the snow around them. They fascinate you, for you have not seen beasts this small, this graceful before. Something in you is torn between hungering after them, knowing that, could you catch them, you might easily overpower and kill them, and the need to protect them, to shield them from the clutches of prowling lions and swooping birds. You do not understand the rise of these new emotions; you do not understand the circumstance of your salvation or the intent of the other who has saved you.
__] 

The snowshoe hare is a breed of hare native specifically to North America and Canada. Renowned for the unique grace and size of its hind feet, large enough to have earned this small hare its name, the snowshoe hare is capable of unique balance in icy and treacherous conditions.

 

Subsisting primarily on a diet of twigs, leaves and grass, like their relatives, the Arctic hares, snowshoe hares have also demonstrated the ability to digest food from traps or to consume smaller dead rodents in sparse conditions, making them not so much an omnivorous species but certainly an opportunistic one. Like others of their species, they breed oft, females giving birth to up to four different litters of young a year.

 

For this writer however, it is not so much the traits or social aspects of the snowshoe hare’s lifestyle that make it such a fascinating animal, but rather the seasonal connotations implicit its life cycle.

 

As with the duality of the Oak King and the Holly King in ancient pagan tradition, the humble snowshoe hare is a beast of two seasons.


Whilst in summer, it appears with the mottled grey and brown coat familiar to many who have encountered its domestic relatives, in winter this coat is swapped for fur of immaculate snow white—a natural defence against predators incapable of disguising themselves amidst the snowfall.

 

Every season is a death of sorts, a symbolic casting off of one life, one coat, one set of skills, in favour of that which helps the hare survive another year.


In criticism of Richard Adams’ famous children’s novel, Watership Down, the comment was once made that English literature amounted to little more than stories about rabbits written for rabbits. If such is true, then how noble a gesture might it be to wish to convey through fiction that which has served the snowshoe hare so well these past centuries? To present stories that cast light and shadow on the cave wall, to illuminate the natural condition of things and communicate the need for change and the skills necessary to achieve such change, does this not make the snowshoe hare the greatest of all possible literary cyphers?

 

Although not native to our shores, there is something of our own national character in the instinct of this small hare with its unique grace and unwavering tenacity.


Whilst many other nations may be proud of the predators they boast as their national symbols, England, dear England, could do a lot worse than the noble rabbit and its undaunted relatives.

 

 

 

[* *]

 

Saulė

 

[Amidst the leaves, dried out, dyed with inks and stains, and filled with etchings, the old man in the felled, misshapen forest gestures with excitement. You follow his gaze down towards the pictures, frowning, struggling to comprehend. Gingerly, you reach out. The material is softer than the walls of the cave, the etchings more detailed than had they been cut into the rock and yet still you do not understand their significance. He continues to gesture with excitement, and then, at the very last, tears the leaf free from that which binds it to the others and holds it up before you. You narrow your eyes, studying the image and struggling to understand. Depicted is the likeness of a woman with pale, flowing hair, a radiance of sorts pouring from her naked flesh as she walks within summer gardens, attended by two equally radiant children following after her. You look from the image presented, to the face of your hoary old rescuer, and you struggle to understand. “Saulė,” he says, over and over again. “Saulė. Summer.”
__] 
The sun deity Saulė, a Sol Invictus figure woven from the tapestry of Lithuanian and Latvian mythology, has long been renowned as the most powerful of her pantheon, a mother deity to the myriad gods of the solar system.
p.
Wedded to the deity, Mėnuo (the moon), and mother of Žemyna (Earth), as well as many other planets, Saulė’s story is one of womanhood affronted. Her husband, like Zeus before him, having pursued the love of other women, specifically  Aušrinė, the morning star, caused a rift in their happy matrimony, leading to the codification of day and night and the very structure of time.
p.
The most interesting thing about the role of Saulė however, is the utter lack of duality in relation to the significance of her position in the cosmos. Her duties as a goddess of summer and of the harvest are not separated from her duties at the winter solstice. She is a goddess of an all-encompassing nature, a literal force within all the seasons.
p.
Oblique and at times incomprehensible, Saulė moves through the space beyond with an agenda of her own, attended by her two handmaidens, Vakarinė, the evening star, and Aušrinė, the woman for whom her husband left her.

 

Always depicted in a subservient position to Saulė, Aušrinė is also sometimes presented as the former’s daughter, a scenario which makes Mėnuo’s complicity all the more difficult to accept, and one that it is said he was disfigured for.


Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, so the saying goes, how much more so must this be true not only of a mother but also a deity? Mėnuo’s face was left scarred and pitted, an explanation perhaps for the marred surface of the moon seen hanging in the night sky.
p.
An arrangement was made by which Saulė would raise their daughter, Žemyna, during the daylight hours, and Mėnuo would only be able to gaze down upon her as she slept, incapable of interfering or altering the decisions made by his former wife. Abandoned in the skies, the moon is a figure of tragedy in a universe dominated by the radiance of the sun.
p.
Whilst it might be easy to take the world for granted, to subscribe to the myth that the universe is predisposed in the favour of life, the story of Saulė assures us that the very nature of the heavens is played out in a realm entirely independent of us. We can but offer thanks and praise to the goddess as she continues in her tireless duties, and hope that her agenda continues to favour our own desires and needs.

 

Admired, respected and perhaps feared, the winter equinox is a celebration of Saulė’s power and her significance.

 

 

[* *]

 

Louhi

 

[In agitation, he casts the first leaf away, turning to another amidst the collection of etchings. Begrudgingly, you turn your eyes down toward the image he indicates, yet the visage of a creature glimpsed terrifies you. You pull back from the etching, physically repulsed by what you see. It is a woman, that much is obvious, and yet the figure is deeply disfigured. Her hair is the colour of the feathers of black birds, her back arched and warped, her spine knotted. Where her arms should have been are two expansive wings, where her feet should have been are crooked and sharpened claws. Her face ends in a beak, an avian snout like the massive predators you have seen circling the cloudy skies over the cliffs. Yet there is also something decidedly human about her, something almost familiar. Her face seems alike the illustration of the woman that had been shown before. Although they are different, although one possesses fair hair, the other dark, there is a similarity in the structure and muscle of the face. Something about them is alike, is akin. “Louhi,” the old man announces with severity. “Winter.”
__
__]The nation of Pohjola cannot be found on any map of modern Europe. There is no mention of the distant northlands, of the pillar that holds up the now wilting world tree. These maps do not talk of the magical trinkets of the craftsman, Ilmarinen, or of the quest of Lemminkäinen and wise Väinämöinen, and the manner in which they forced Ilmarinen to journey to Pohjola and create the legendary Sampo.

There is also no mention of the queen of those distant winter lands, the cunning and conniving witch, Louhi.

Significant in both the mythology of Finland and Lapland, the story of Pohjola and its ancient queen are tales that have had a tremendous impact on both European and Russian storytelling.

Unfolding in narrative as a sort of epic falling somewhere between [Beowulf _]and L. Frank Baum’s _The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the most famous story is related in the two iterations of the grandiose poem, the Kalevala, first published only in 1835.

The story introduces the reader to Lemminkäinen and his quest to marry a beautiful maiden of the north, the creation of the Sampo, and the role of Louhi; the scope of the tale is much larger than this alone however. Taking in the entire rich tapestry of Finnish pre-history, the [_Kalevala _]is as weighty as it is significant.

Yet it is the evil queen who is our main concern.

Renowned as a wicked witch despite her lack of flying monkeys, Louhi puts Lemminkäinen through a number of trials as he struggles to win the right to ask for his would-be bride’s hand in marriage. Of all these tasks—tasks which Lemminkäinen obviously passes—it is only the forging of the Sampo that is really significant.

Imagine the Grail forcibly forged by its creator, imagine a device wilfully brought into creation that could change the course of history and you have something of an inkling of how significant the Sampo truly is.

Perhaps comparative with Lilith, the mother of devils in Hebrew mythology, Louhi was eager to change the course of the world and the texture of reality. She had already mastered magic, had already obtained the secrets by which her form was able to shift, her physical aspect alter, yet she needed the Sampo to retell the story of the world in her favour, to supplant the unchanging heart for her own presence.

Needless to say, despite both her strength and cunning, she was defeated by Lemminkäinen and Väinämöinen—yet for all this, I find it very difficult painting her as a true villainess.

A witch she might have been, a queen of the endless wasteland, a monarch of tundra, yet she was also a woman who gambled on a chance to change the world, for better or worse and for this, like Milton’s Lucifer, or like Loki in Norse mythology—whose mother she is oft equated with—it is hard to truly begrudge her this ambition.

 

 

 

Yamal Iri

 

Again, he tears free the leaf, casting it aside and revealing a further etching—a depiction of an elderly man in white robes carrying a staff and some kind of instrument, a musical item the construction of which you are not familiar with. He wears his white hair long, his features partially hidden by a flowing beard. A frown crosses your face and you look up at the man across from you. He simply nods, as if by doing so this might clear your confusion and confirm that which you suspect. He does not voice this however, does not confirm this with his lips, and you are left with a strange sense of disassociation regarding the circumstance. It is as if there is some clear comparison, some easy way of equating the man illustrated upon the pressed leaf before you and he who now sits opposite you, yet somehow you cannot compare the two. They are similar yet different. You shake your head in frustration and he simply smiles kindly, waiting for comprehension to dawn, waiting for you to guess the very structure of the world.

 

As a festive figure, [*Yamal Iri *]is a relatively new face amongst our cavalcade of gods and monsters.

 

Dating from 2007, the original figure of Yamal Iri is a kindly grandfather figure steeped in the history of the Northern Russian tribes, whilst, at once, being a reinterpretation of those themes that have now gained an international cultural saturation point.


Yet if his origin is new, his pedigree certainly is not. Echoing antiquarian themes of the northern peoples of the former oblasts, Yamal Iri is also depicted as a traveller, as befits the notion of his international influences.

 

Afforded the time to fashion their own myth, to retrospectively enter Yamal Iri into the Christmas canon, the officials of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug fashioned the tale of a man associated strongly with the native Nenets culture of northern Russia and Sibera.

 

Inspired by the tale of Terlei, an established hero of the Nenet people, Yamal Iri—his name literally meaning ‘Grandfather of Yamal’—is both a shaman and a guide, a man travelling across the snow-covered tundra, and beneath the weighted branches of the forest in order to offer help to other travellers and induct likeminded individuals into the Northern Brotherhood of adventurers and teachers.

 

He carries with him an unfailing staff inscribed with magical runes to guide him on his path, and a drum made of reindeer fur and birch wood, the sound of which repels evil spirits like the bells upon the shakujo staff of Ksitigarbha warns insects of his approach. The difference of course, is in Ksitigarbha’s approach to animals and the cultural context of Yamal Iri’s use of animal by-products. Yet it is not my place to offer condemnation here, merely to comment on thematic overlap.

 

It is interesting to note that there is also a kind of syncretic overlap in the exposition of Yamal Iri’s tale.

 

There is no rivalry or denial of other Yuletide figures, and even though characters such as Ded Moroz, foisted on many nations of the former Soviet Union by the authority of Moscow, are deeply unfashionable in other countries, in Yamal-Nenets there is no competition. The elderly Grandfather of Yamal appears alongside both Ded Moroz and Santa Claus frequently. He is not a rival; rather his presence in our December pantheon is complementary to that which has already been established.

 

Presented as a kindly figure, often ready to offer advice and aid, there is the sense that Yamal Iri is a man not confined simply to December but present the year round, a tutor and an instructor in both traditions that have been all but lost, but also in that most seasonal of offerings; basic human kindness.

 

Whilst he may not travel the world in a single night on a sleigh pulled by reindeer, Yamal Iri is a more personable and humble gift-giver for the season.

 

More than anything however, Yamal Iri is a reminder of the camaraderie felt at this time of year. He is without question a Good Samaritan for all seasons.

 

 

[* *]

 

Megalodon

 

[You take with you what supplies you can carry, unwilling to take too much from the old man in his strange woodland abode and still somewhat cautious about the manner in which such food is prepared. You understand death, the world is a clever instructor in this respect; you understand the demise of animals, the bloody caving in of their skulls, the gashes in their flanks, you understand the feasting upon their bodies—yet you cannot comprehend the notion of storing such flesh like raw materials. Nor do you fully understand the burning of the flesh, the sprinkling of herbs and spices. It is a form of magic, a message from a world you are not included in. Your feet sink into the soft snow as you trudge away from the home of your benefactor, feeling his eyes upon your back as you follow the path of the curving river. Within the strange collection of borrowed etchings, you saw depicted many a beast, many a curiosity. You shudder as you recall the horror of those fiends that dwell not in your own environment, their colossal bodies subsumed by the churning waves, their giant jaws spread wide to reveal row upon row upon row of teeth. You have eaten the flesh of water fowl before, you have reached in and snared them with your hands, broken their spines with rocks, yet such a creature as the monster you glimpsed within those drawings you could not imagine battling, on land or at sea. Even a creature such as the mighty mammoth would stand no chance. As you walk your lonely path, you pray that you never encounter such a beast.
__
__]This writer is terrified of sharks.

Despite the fact that it is unlikely that I should ever encounter a beast as massive and terrifying as the ancient [*megalodon *]in any part of North London, I literally flinch whenever I have to open the Wikipedia page for this insanely terrifying antiquarian predator.

Like the mammoth and the tyrannosaur, the megalodon bears the classification of megafauna, a term applied to only the most massive of animals. Modern examples of this class are both polar bears and elephants—and yet even these do not come close to capturing the true majesty and scale of the ancient megafauna. To throw this label into perspective, the megafauna category also includes the Argentavis, a bird with a wingspan of 23ft.

The megalodon was so large it ate whales.

That’s right.

[It ate whales.
__
__]Whilst there is more than a lot of respectful concern regarding the powerful great white shark, even this modern cousin of the ancient sea beast would be hard pressed to take down a baleen whale. It is true that strategies have developed amongst both great whites and killer whales in which schools of them are capable of taking down such a massive beast, yet the megalodon simply opened its mouth and followed.

Of all of the creatures of the Cenozoic Era, the megalodon is one of the most terrifying examples for how nature is not weighted in our favour. When we consider the scale of our habits, the nature of our invention, and then place them against the blessing such a massive predator was birthed with, there can be no doubt that such a creature was more seriously favoured by the ancient world than we were.

It is not through grace or destiny that we remain.

The death of the megalodon came with the onset of early glaciation in the north. As the climate dropped, so the waters cooled. The massive strand of baleen whales that formed its primary source of sustenance began to die out, and as the creature was driven away from the heartlands of their primary hunting grounds, so greater conflict between older sharks and adolescences became more frequent.

It could be said that whilst they were so very different from us in terms of scale and blessing, like us, as their environment began to atrophy, they turned upon one another.

These giant predators became fewer in number, and as their presence receded, so the fearsome orca multiplied—and if any species is akin to us in cruelty and cunning then surely there is none quite as close as the hideous orca.

As the world changed and the giant megalodon passed away, the waters became calmer yet no less tainted by blood. Perhaps the story of the killer whale is another entry entirely.

The king of megafauna passed away with very little contact between our two cultures.

Yet as the waters grow ever warmer, as the ice caps recede, perhaps we should all take a moment to consider what might happen should any of these creatures still remain in slumber. There are numerous B-Movies dedicated to the theme, none of which do true justice to the horror of the megalodon.

Let us clarify once more—the megalodon ate whales.

Far be it from me to incite superstition and unfounded concern, yet this writer remains grateful that North London is far, far from both the cooling waters and melting ice caps.

 

 

[* *]

 

Mari Lwyd

 

[Your journey leads you away from the river, taking you from the curve of that running water, the promise of life beneath the moving waves. You trudge further and further across the fields of snow and ice, and it is only as you walk that you become aware once more of the presence of spirits amidst the storm. You do not lift your head, do not look up, you keep marching forward, the weight of the dwindling supplies on your back, wrapped in furs you cannot name. Like the visitor who joined you along the path before the river, slowly you become aware of another presence observing you. Instead of walking alongside however, this form waits ahead, disappearing now and again only to emerge once more from the snowstorm a greater distance away. It is as if it is beckoning you, leading you on to some strange and unknown destination. At last you lift your head, catching a glimpse of its form amidst the swirling snow. What you see does not fail to horrify you. The spectre waiting ahead is clad in white robes adorned with garlands of flowers, it is decorated with bells and ribbons of vivid colour and though it stands upon two legs, the head that protrudes from beneath the cowl is the skull of a mare of some kind, its empty eye sockets filled with glowing stones. This is just a dream, you whisper to yourself, the snow falling upon your downy hair. You bow your head and continue your journey. The spectre remains a short distance ahead of you.
__
__]The [*Mari Lwyd *]tradition, spelt Y Fari Lwyd in Welsh, is a difficult ritual to fix in place and circumstance, despite its significant relation to other traditions, both extant and forgotten.

As we have seen previously, there is a romance with white harts and horses amidst the folklore of those areas more closely associated with the Celtic tribes. From Cornwall to Scotland, from the ‘Obby ‘Oss to the white hart, these animal spirits haunted the very traditions of many villages in the British Isles until finally being eroded by the spread of modernity.

Reported as a character present amidst groups of wassailers on New Year’s Day, the Mari Lwyd is a spectre construed of white sheets and the skull of a mare joined to a wooden staff.

 

This ghastly figure would follow other characters in the village’s traditions—the testy Mr. Punch for instance—and fellow choir members from door to door, singing old songs and carols and occasionally engaging in games or making threats of acts that may be averted by the offering of drinks and cakes. In this regard, there is something of the Namahage tradition of Akita prefecture present amidst the rituals of the Mari Lwyd.

The central figure, though later associated with the Virgin Mary despite the hideousness of its appearance, is more than likely connected with the Celtic deity, Epona, and by default, Diana. There is the theme of an older Hunt perhaps, before Diana’s role had been usurped by Odin, when matriarchal societies were still more significant than the growing cults of male deities that supplanted them.

Yet whatever the deity, whatever the meaning, the appearance of the Mari Lwyd’s wraithlike countenance in the dead of winter, the offering of gifts and the atmosphere of playful celebration all point towards a custom related to fertility and harvest; a seasonal changing ushered in by the spectre of a blessed animal.

Although the nuance is lost, although the custom remains only in confused memory and recited ritual, there is enough of the Mari Lwyd’s presence to suggest association with Mithra and Sangamitta, Brigid and the Badalisc, the Boy Bishop and the Lord of Misrule.

The Mari Lwyd may not be a clear figure from the shared stories of our past however it is not one without peers.

 

 

[* *]

 

Black Annis

 

As you move further up the incline of the rising hills, you notice there are no birds amongst the sparse branches of the dead trees. A silence the like you have not known before has descended upon the land, a winter far greater, far older than anything you can understand. Ahead, the spectral mare remains, its movements now tinged with sadness, its frail body swaying. Here amongst these dead trees, it holds no power. As you move further upwards, you are startled to come across the corpses of animals strung up amidst the branches. Black fur stained with blacker blood, yellow eyes looking out in pain and horror. This is not the work of beasts, you realise, this is the ritual of incomprehension, the reaction of minds searching for a context within which to grasp the dark season. It is only then that you finally catch a glimpse of the gargantuan form that moves about in the grey light ahead. You are stunned by the size of the thing, your body paralysed with fear as even the spirit that has haunted you seems to shrink back in the presence of this other. A tremble besets you; the soft hair of your legs becomes warm with your own water. It passes, yet you still remain.

 

Prowling through the mountains, the hideous figure of Black Annis is notable in her claim to relative modernity as opposed to some of the more antiquarian deities and beasts we have thus far encountered.

 

Despite supposition that this foul giantess has some kind of origins way back in the misty realms of Celtic history and alleged folklore, we are informed by the ever dependable Wikipedia that the actual first mention of Annis comes from the 18th century.

 

The name, first recorded as ‘Black Anny,’ was in relation to an area of land so named after her. When quizzed, the local residents offered up a tale of a monstrous figure with a swollen blue face and iron claws. With these claws, never quite clarified as either tools or some manner of mutation made more severe during experimentation—a Celtic Wolverine with a taste for children—she was able to carve out a home for herself in the rock of a nearby cliff, the so-called Black Anny’s Bower referenced in that 18th century deed.

 

Celebrated as a monster-under-the-bed of sorts, Black Annis has more than a little in common with such famed hags of mythology as the Slavic Baba Yaga, and the Japanese Onibaba. G-d forbid that these three crones should ever meet, or perhaps speculate on the future of kings and monarchs.

 

Within all these monstrous characters, there is a desire for the flesh of children, a feasting of the old upon the bodies of the young. This central perversion, this ultimate taboo resonates as much in the dark annals of pre-history when the notion of the elderly abusing the young could mean disaster to a village’s fortunes, as it does today, when seemingly every person involved in popular entertainment in the 1970s appears to have been caught up in the Jimmy Savile scandal.

 

The solution for such fear of losing the next generation as a potential workforce was often to offer one or two children as sacrifice—a blessed virgin in exchange for the survival of their peers. The practise is well documented in both folklore and ritual, one that is also often associated with winter.

 

In the story related of Black Annis, her presence was often personified as winter itself. Whilst the soil froze, whilst the crops would not yield, so this ancient crone stalked glen and field, tearing the rooftops from solitary abodes and reaching in to feast on any children unfortunate enough to reside within.

 

The winter takes the weak; the winter takes the young.

 

Occasionally depicted as a black cat, the end of winter would be celebrated by the death of such an animal, its corpse dragged before baying dogs, and eventually strung up before the hollowed cave carved by those iron claws; a gesture of sacrifice and warning that instinctively supplies this writer with all the pro-monster sentiment they might require to weather the season.

 

Regardless of the actuality of her origin, regardless of the modernity of her myth, there is certainly an echo of the past present in her story.

 

In these current years, when we have once more discovered the sensationalism that cruelty and abuse of children inspires in the media, perhaps it is important to remember why we have such tales as that of monstrous Black Annis.

 

 

[* *]

 

Der Leiermann

 

A haunting sound rouses you and you realise that in the face of the giantess, you have been running wild; maddened by what you have glimpsed amidst the rolling hills and sandstone cliffs. Slowly however, the sound, the rhythmic grinding of unnatural noise, beckons you to your senses once again, and your feet slow, your eyes registering the scene before you. The phantom mare has passed and you are again alongside the trickle of water, a stream running through the hills, down towards the river, you would imagine. The sound plays on, and you wonder, is this music? The beat of drums, the jingle-jangle of bells is not unknown to you. You have encountered music as ritual, music as the aid of storytelling before. Yet this sound is different; disagreeable, haunting even. You look up in search of the source of the noise, and find a hateful, rotund man in strange blue attire, the cut of which is unlike the furs you wear. He is barefoot upon the frozen earth, an idiot smile upon his swollen features as his fat hands work tirelessly at some contraption of wood and ivory strapped to his chest. At a safe distance, wolves eye him with contempt. Casually, he informs you by strange gestures that he possesses a message for you. He instructs you to look into the surface of the stream. He is not like you; his skin is pale and hairless. Begrudgingly, you turn to gaze at the running water.

 

I must confess that classical music has never been my forte, no pun intended.

 

I like to consider myself fairly musically diverse, as capable of finding meaning in songs documenting the social unrest of a specific era as songs sung by 14-year-old girls relating the details of their first loves. Classical music however, is something that I find difficult to relate to, possibly due to the lack of language to convey the themes.

 

This is a failing on my part, of course. Yet before you think me entirely uneducated, I should firstly express my enthusiasm for festive music, and indeed, music in celebration of winter itself.

 

Franz Schubert’s [_Winterreise _]cycle is a bleak work inspired by the poems of Wilhelm Müller. The story, consisting of twenty-four songs originally published in two parts, relates the tale of a man betrayed by his sweetheart and abandoned to feelings of misery and regret. As he journeys through the frozen countryside, he asks himself what has become of his life, what is it that has brought such sorrow and misfortune. All the while, he is led astray and mocked by crows and a distant will-o’-the-wisp.

 

Yet it is not until the final song that, for me, the true horror arises.

 

At the very end of his journeys, he encounters a barefoot tramp grinding away at a hurdy-gurdy, smiling inanely despite his fate, hated even by the dogs of the village.

 

This image, this haunted idiot, resonates with many archetypes of the winter season, not least of all the Fool sacrificed in the complex rituals of the mummers’ plays. He is an imbecile, a Lord of Misrule unaware of his own discomfort, a man whose very presence and lack of understanding inspires a terror of circumstance. There is the horror that one day, the fate of the hurdy-gurdy player may eventually become that of the audience, that misfortune might bring even someone with the noblest of intentions down to the level of an idiot.

 

Of course, in terms of archetypal myth, the role of the Fool is not always a bad thing. No journey begins without foolishness of some kind, because simply put, none who are comfortable with their lot in life would begin a journey.

 

The fear is not always of the journey though, but rather of what it might render us.

 

In the case of Schubert and Müller’s heartbroken poet, he decides that he will join with the hurdy-gurdy man as he travels from village to village, playing upon his hateful instrument. He will shoulder the contempt of the world, the hate of men, women, even children and animals, because if there is no love, then how can there be life?

 

This is not a journey. Rather this is wilful self-destruction.

 

Der Leiermann, continually playing his tuneless music, smiling vacantly as his breath freezes before his face, is actually the reverse meaning of the true Fool archetype. He is static, addled, disconnected.

 

Even the Devil in his wintry prison understands regret. For the hurdy-gurdy player however, there is nothing but the continual discordant resonance of his music.

 

 

[* *]

 

Wendigo

 

The face that looks back at you from the running water is gaunt and drawn, snaggletoothed and weathered. Coarse white hair covers your face, your nose upturned, your cheekbones sharp and your brow low. You are unlike the musician looking down upon you as his plump fingers work his strange tool. You are unlike the hunters that share the land with you, their hopes and dreams scratched onto the walls of caves; you are unlike even the great apes that weather the wilderness, unable to fashion tools like their chattering children do. Your face is not pleasing, bearing the marks of struggle and battle, survival and conflict. You are different, this much is obvious. Looking up, you realise the grind of that objectionable music has fallen silent. Upon the slopes above, your final foe awaits.

 

The [*Wendigo *]is as much a curse as it is a beast, an illustration of what happens to the soul once a member of the tribe has broken the laws of taboo. If Black Annis relates to the danger of the old turning against the young, then surely the Wendigo presents a scenario in which an adult turns upon all who surround them.

 

To succumb to the curse of the Wendigo is to consume human flesh.

 

Derived from the Native American Algonquian tribes, the Wendigo possesses a strong thematic link with the ravenous preta of Buddhist tradition. They are figures forever hungry yet appearing starved, consumed by gluttony and absorbed in the gratification of the flesh. They are referred to in translated Algonquian accounts as “it” rather than “he” or “she,” almost as if the act of consuming human flesh has taken them beyond their birth gender, beyond their aspect as men or women.

 

Yet despite the weighty cultural and religious significance of this mountain bound predator, the first story I recall reading regarding the Wendigo was [_Spider-Man _]issues #8 – 12 by Todd McFarlane in 1990 – 1991. Depicted here as something more of a wild man akin to Bigfoot or dear Hibagon, the Wendigo is rendered as a beast covered in white fur, living in the heights of the mountains of British Columbia.

 

It is hard for me to distance myself from this early perception of the misunderstood monster. We can attribute this to my previously documented earlier mistaking of the shark from Jaws 2 as the hero of the film, or a fondness for the flawed persona of Frankenstein’s monster, yet there is something of the Wendigo that speaks of the flawed hero.

 

Traditionally, members of the tribe who succumbed to cannibalism in times of famine would be excised, doomed to live outside of the community at best, subject to ritual cures and purification, or ultimately to execution at worst. They were forever isolated, cut off from the life they had once known—a form of death whilst still the heart beats, the breath rattles.

 

In many ways, once the roots of the Wendigo myth are explored, it is easy to see its transformation into a stock monster character in North American culture. The breaking of the taboo of consuming flesh and blood, the embittered exile—all of these notions are present in the story of many a vampire legend, and even more so, are romanticised and sensationalised by works such as Stoker’s Dracula.

 

Stinking of decay and rot, the Wendigo in both their forms—the native monsters, and those who have succumbed to their curse—are tragic figures, lessons in what happens when humans discard their fragile restraints of civilisation.

 

Had the world suffered cataclysm on the 23rd December 2012, at 11:11 as many suspected, perhaps we would all have found ourselves tried by the temptation that incurs the Wendigo’s curse.

 

Driven into the elements of the snow covered mountains, feasting upon the corpses of the dead, celebrating violence; the line between the Wendigo and humanity may sometimes seem decidedly thin, yet there is a line nonetheless.

Neanderthal man

[_ _]

They stand above you, expressionless and unknowable, clad in furs like you, their jaws jutting like yours, their hair coarse and wild. They are your tribe, your brothers and sisters, your father and mother—and in each of their hands are heavy rocks, a weight to sink you down within the running water behind you. They are not the cave dwellers, not those who scratch about on the walls, who invent stories of the beasts they have felled, the monsters they have slayed. No, your people are practical, more sophisticated, and less prone to whimsy. You try to understand what it is you now stand accused of, what reason they could have for abandoning you, and then so cruelly returning, rocks lifted high above their heads—and then all at once, recollection blossoms. You remember the child’s open belly, the taste of flesh in your mouth, the blood cooling on your face. The dying child was meat like any other animal, you told yourself. It would not last the winter. It made sense to take what you could, to sustain yourself against the bitter cold. It made sense to eat the child, to thus ingest its vitality. Yet others felt not. The first rock flies freely from a familiar palm, your brother casting his arm out, the stone hitting you upon the shoulder. You stagger slightly, bare feet losing purchase amidst the mud. A second stone flies; this one hits you squarely in the chest. You double up, clutching the wound. More rocks fall now, one after the other, some large, some small. There comes a howling noise from above, a cry of vindication, the music of a more natural emotion than that of the player of the strange instrument player who once stood before you. The rocks fall like a landslide upon you. You drop to your knees. Lifting your head, blood running down your brow, stinging your eyes, you try to protest through broken teeth. Your own mother raises her hand. The final rock strikes you and your skull splinters as you tumble back into the icy cold water. Above you, snow continues to fall, flakes of white against the grey sky. Hundreds of years from now, the old will tell their young that no two snowflakes are ever the same—yet of men, you know a different tale; all men are alike, all will take what opportunity presents them. You have not done wrong, you believe this still. You, like them, have simply tried to survive at the expense of others. Your eyes grow dim. Soon even the snow weighs you down. Then, there is nothing.

 

So much has been written of our ancestors, it is hard to know where to begin.

 

In a very real sense, Neanderthal man was both like us, and yet very, very different. To elucidate, to wax lyrical upon the nature of their language, their culture, we must first tell stories of them; pluck distant memories from cultural records, fill in the gaps.

 

Pushed ever further from their traditional hunting grounds, the final days of the Neanderthal were far from pleasant. Continually marginalised by the expanse of the rising tribes of Homo sapiens, and the brutal shift in weather, the story of the Neanderthal is not a happy one. Despite being better prepared to ward off the cold, being broader of shoulder and physically stronger than other competing evolutionary branches, the Neanderthal faced a world that was changing rapidly. Cultural practises and rituals became obscured all too easily as the terrain around them succumbed to the cold, their prey perishing in the frozen weather.

 

These factors, the diminishing prey, the rival tribes, meant that despite being built to weather the elements, despite potentially being more intelligent than Homo sapiens, the Neanderthals were eventually side-lined in such a fashion that they became non-existent.

 

Whilst it is almost impossible to fully understand such a distant past from the information we have gathered, there are many proponents of the notion that whilst the majority of Neanderthals died, their culture was preserved to a degree by interbreeding with Homo sapiens. As we know that the Neanderthals were knowledgeable and progressive in the use of tools, it is almost tempting to paint them as the Enochian Watchers, the Nephilim of Biblical myth; giants who mentored humanity against the will of the creator deity in the process of tool making.

 

Such an idea would provide the reverse of previously stated arguments that the reason for Homo sapiens superiority over the Neanderthals was the construction of culture, of society—of civilisation.

 

Sadly however, it is more often the other myth that we associate with the Neanderthal; that of the yeti, the wild man. There is room to redeem this portrayal, to compare the Neanderthal to Puck or Oberon, but for now, despite their advanced culture, despite the fact that they may have been the teachers and instructors who shaped our civilisation, the Neanderthal remains even here amongst the ranks of monsters.

 

Whilst not a festive symbol in their own right, I can think of no greater icon of the struggle against winter than the late lamented Neanderthal man.

 

 

 

[* *]

 

2013

 

Julenissen

 

[_It is bitter, she thinks, the taste not at all like the confectionery she has become accustomed to. Yet the small slice of chocolate is what has been offered, and the curious man behind the counter of the old curiosity shop is oh, so very insistent that she open the calendar door. _
_   And so she does not protest, she does not think of the sadness that she feels, she does not think of the bitter winter winds and the lights that mean not much now that she is alone, she simply opens the door of the calendar and eats what she finds within. The man at the counter, that strange being that stands there in worn leather jacket, pale green skin unaccountable and wreath of holly and ivy in his tousled hair, waits expectantly for her. _
_   She blinks slowly and looks down at the picture left in the absence of that small piece of chocolate, a rotund figure in red robes, a swollen belly, a lengthy white beard._
_   “Looks familiar, doesn’t he?” whispers the shopkeeper._
_   And he is right; the figure does look very familiar._
_   But he is not._]

In Norway, the term ‘Julenissen’ is more often than not used as a way to identify the familiar character of Father Christmas—or Santa Claus, should you prefer—in a less clumsy fashion. Literally translated as ’Yule dwarf,’ a swift search on Google will reveal little more than the tired old images we have all been staring at for one month every year of our lives; the roaring fireplace, the sack filled with toys, the portly figure in red suit, the endorsement of Coca-Cola. It is too easy to ignore the idea of the Julenissen as anything other than a different name for our own festive gift-giver.

And yet the name sticks.

Julenissen.

The tomte are possibly familiar to you, perhaps you recall them from similar missives to this one, or perhaps you have first-hand experience of their mischievous nature and awkward behaviour. Often dwelling within farmhouses, or within some small crag in the family home, the tomtenissen were short, bearded sprites dressed in farmers’ robes; easy to anger if upset, yet often quick to assist in the chores of everyday life. They were a blessing for the working class in the remote farmlands of the Nordic nations, and like the Japanese yokai, zashiki-warashi, their presence was often considered a boon more than a source of complaint, a testament to the way in which magic and superstition became entwined with the everyday amongst working class communities.

The idea of presenting Father Christmas as a variant of this behaviour is not as absurd as you may think, should you pause to deconstruct the elements.

Like the tomte, he is short and bearded, a jolly spirit whose presence causes celebration yet whose essence symbolises labour. Like the zashiki-warashi, he can be associated with wealth in his role as gift-giver, especially in the story of St. Nicholas and the man who could not afford a dowry for his three daughters; and like any character of fable, any outsider bound by a different and oft misunderstood code of conduct, Father Christmas may sometimes appear harsh and vindictive, his servants crawling in from the darkness to punish wayward children and drag them into servitude as one of the Zwarte Pieten.

There is sadness here in these tales we relate, the fantastic used to explain away the hardships of lives endured, and all too often, of lives lost.

Adopted primarily from early images of the Germanic Herr Vinter—who himself was seemingly compatible with the old Norse deity, Vetr—the image of the Julenissen was never as rigidly fixed as other interpretations of St. Nicholas.

 

Depicted like the old saint, sans mitre and staff, our festive dwarf was initially an unpopular character in the mythology of the long Norwegian winter, his place oft obscured by the role of the fierce ghost spirit, Joulupukki. Yet over time, the nostalgia for 19th century art and the traditional revere of the tomte merged into a distinct figure running parallel with the increasingly Americanised figure of Santa Claus.

True synchronicity did not occur however, until the advent of popular media and the dissemination of American images through television and the printed page. Because of this, it would be easy to ignore the Julenissen as but another title for a figure we are already familiar with, yet to do so would be a disservice. Whilst there is little recorded of him in the English language, and much of the character and the associations people have of him are passed down through fiction and fable, half-recalled fragments of tales from long lost grandparents or absent mothers, the Julenissen remains significant to our ever growing Christmas pantheon.

It is easy to be distracted by the imagery associated with a character that we are less than familiar with, yet beneath that, the language and the words by which he is summoned remain fiercely independent of American association.

Like Oberon in his first recorded written adventure, Les Prouesses et faitz du noble Huon de Bordeaux, the Julenissen is a portly and merry figure, another aspect of Pan or Faunus, Dionysus or Bacchus.

The seasons change, but the forest remains.

 

 

[* *]

 

The Maenads

 

[The day passes, the sun descends, and she spends a night alone beneath old sheets in the cold, damp confines of her flat. She wakes up. Cold porridge, bitter taste at the back of her mouth, and she finds herself back in the old shop, pigeons perched on the ledge outside, a symptom of the proprietor’s uncleanliness; and you know what they say, she tells herself, uncleanliness is next to ungodliness.
_   With a knowing smile, he places the gaudy calendar before, and eagerly she opens up another door._
_   She takes the chocolate, and this time there is the taste of milk, and honey, and… wine?_
_   A frown crosses her face._
_   Where the small piece of chocolate rested there remains a picture, a stark image of woman dressed in a wreath of ivy, her face stained with dirt and filth._
_   “The priestesses,” the shopkeeper whispers close to her ear, far closer than she had expected, “the raving ones.”_]

Deep in the forest, the wild women prowl beneath the blossom of summer, the falling leaves of autumn, and amidst the bitter, bitter winds of winter.

Dressed in crowns, and armed with staffs wrapped with leaves of ivy, the maenads of ancient Greece were women driven wild by their love of Dionysus, compelled to follow him into the forests, often to engage in lewd acts of violence and debauchery. Possibly the remnant of a former matriarchal order, there is something of the sun god myth in the manner in which they conducted themselves, a reflection of the way in which many a princely youth has been devoured in festival rites to symbolise the change of the seasons.

The maenads were wild and fierce, a caste of warriors and priestesses famed for having routed invading armies who trespassed in the mountains and thus saving the cities upon which they were sometimes perceived to prey. In this way, the maenads became a representation not only of madness and wild behaviour, but also of the transitory and unforgiving relentlessness of nature itself.

Dressed in the skins of fawns or foxes, these sacred women obeyed laws outside of the established social norm, their behaviour often seeming cruel and vicious, fuelled by a love of wine and cruelty. Of particular repute was their fame for tearing apart young children, a symbolism that is again comparative with the rituals of many another sun deity, and would later be expressed in the relative youth of Christ as the Romans hung him upon his cross.

Yet unlike Christ’s mocking epithet, the king the maenads served was actual forest royalty, a monarch in the groves of summer and winter. Known for his great joy in ripping children to shreds before restoring them to life, Dionysus was the quintessential expression of contempt and spite, a king born of nature, yet decidedly against it.

Here is a messenger of cruel humanity; here is the court of chaos.

The maenads were recruited by the forest god in one of two ways; the first group being those who voluntarily took up the ivy staff and crown of their own accord, and the second being those who were driven wild by his dark presence, forced to debased acts by the madness that came upon him in his presence.

Of the latter group, the most famed was Agave, daughter of the King of Thebes and mother of Pentheus, who was driven insane by Dionysus in return for her cruelty towards his mother, Semele, and tricked into believing that her own son was a wild lion.

With ferocity and wild abandon, Agave tore Pentheus’s head from his shoulders and paraded it about the streets of Thebes, only returning to her senses when confronted by her horrified husband.

The maenads were in many ways comparative with the later profusion of stories in Europe surrounding faeries and other fantastical creatures, their feats often originally attributed to woodland nymphs in early stories. They were possessed of terrible strength when in the grasp of madness, wild animals bowing down before them and accepting sacrifice before their cruel desires. Yet unlike the Fay, they were unable to be harmed by iron, and wherever they went it was not nature that they found accordance with, but rather nature that caved to their desires.

The thyrsus, the traditional staff of the maenads, was a tool for drawing out miracles from nature; a method of making the ground bubble with milk and wine, as they themselves took wild animals to them and nursed them with gentle passion.

What is good is bad, what is bad has become good.

Like the mystery god, Mithras, the symbol of Dionysus was the bull, and it was to this animal that the most significant cruelty would be enacted.

Bowing before them without protest, the maenads in their fury would tear the beast apart and eat its flesh raw, dowsing themselves in its blood and drawing deep in their bellies the powers of the old god. It is a bitter transubstantiation, a communion of cruelty.

Yet for all their evil, for all the rage and chaos they wrought upon the world, there is something of the crass and relentless nature of the maenads that needs to be preserved; something that we recognise of our own need for the desire for control and understanding of our own circumstances.

Crowned with ivy, you could be forgiven for thinking of the maenads as the counterbalance of the Amazonian warrior women. As such, it is interesting to note that the falcarinol contained within the leaves of ivy have been shown to counteract breast cancer cells.

As late as the 20th century, villagers near Mt. Parnassos still whispered of the sound of ghostly cymbals and the beat of invisible drums.

Away from the stone and the concrete, the forests and woodlands still sing to us with winter madness, our homes still bound with the unrepentant spread of ivy.

 

 

[* *]

 

Yeti

 

[A third day. Dull grey morning standing numb at traffic lights. Cars pass, Hackney streets etched in a lack of colour. Buses on diversion. A lonely shop in St Martin-in-the-Fields, the wood rotting, gold lettering peeling from the filth stained windows, and again she stands before him, as, with an unholy smile, he rests the calendar on the counter before her, and she opens the door on a further day.
_   The chocolate tastes like ash and dirt, so hard that she grinds her teeth just to worry the corner from the small, square slice._
_   Behind the open door is a colourful picture drawn by a childlike hand, the shambling shape of a man covered in brown fur._
_   She frowns but does not lift her eyes from the garish picture, and behind the counter the shopkeeper shrugs and giggles childishly._
_   “First wild women,” he says, his voice a lisping threat, “now wild men. Whatever will they think of next?”_]

The Yeti is, for many people, the quintessential wild beast, a monster that is like us but is very much separate. Like both Frankenstein’s monster and the famous werewolf, the Yeti can be viewed as a reflection of our animal natures, the suggestion of what we might become if stripped of human sentimentalities, our uniqueness being representative of the grace of G-d some theologians might once have argued, and left to operate only by the coarse moral conduct of beasts.

The Yeti is a terrifying sight because it threatens the perception of the significance of our culture.

Rooted in the early Himalayan belief system of the Lepcha people, the Yeti was first possibly conceived of as a wild deity traversing the ancient glaciers, a Lord of the Hunt who carried with him a large stone with which to fell his prey. Yet it was not until the early 19th century and the first forays by Western explorers into Nepal and Tibet that the legend truly gained steam outside of the native regions it originated in, going on to become one of the most well-known and recognisable monsters in Western pop culture.

From appearances in cartoons and comics to roles in many a B-Movie, the notion of an almost-beast running wild amidst the mountains where we cannot comfortably settle has become exemplary of our contradictory relationship with nature. Like famed Victorian serial killer, Jack the Ripper, or the existence of life on Mars, the Yeti has become one of the myths of our culture that we are reluctant to let go of; a story that we wish to see the facts neither proved nor disproved but hope to endlessly speculate upon.

A shambles of a creature, solitary amidst the barren snowfields, we think of the Yeti as what we might have been, a gap between primates and our own hastily evolved culture, the heat of our hearths, and the walls of our homes keeping us safe and warm in the bitter winter months.

The first time I personally encountered the Yeti as a monster was not alas amongst the mountains and bitter winds of Tibet, but with the Target novelisation of the Doctor Who serial, The Abominable Snowmen by Terrance Dicks. Detailing an encounter between the Second Doctor, portrayed on screen by Patrick Troughton, and his two companions, Victoria and Jamie, I remember a feeling of curious anxiety as I read about the human-like Yeti and the unknowable Intelligence that guided them, a discomfort that I had only ever felt before whilst watching Beneath the Planet of the Apes when younger still.

They were like us, yet they were not us.

This sense of anxiety blossomed into claustrophobia and cold sweats once I was able to read the novelisation of the sequel serial, The Web of Fear, which saw the Second Doctor again pitted against the lumbering Yeti and their unseen master, this time within the confines of the London Underground.

Darkened tunnels, the glow of an alien intelligence in those wide eyes as the beast lumbers towards you upon the silent tracks.

Every culture is peppered with examples of humans who have abandoned their humanity in favour of the relative pleasures of living like animals. From the wodewose to the wendigo to the yeren, even the humble zombie may be viewed as an example of this. Yet the true fear that arises with the image of the Yeti, its dank fur heavy with snow, is the differences between us and it. That suggestion of an intelligence behind the movements of this mythical figure, even if not one from outer space, is chilling in what it suggests; the wild, the unknown, the abominable have a culture too—and that culture may forever remain incomprehensible to even our best efforts to understand it.

Stomping lonely through the snow of the Himalayan mountain passes, it is hard to now imagine any monster better deserving of its association with winter than the noble Yeti.

 

 

Maximón

 

[Sunlight. Is that rain against the window or just condensation? A washing machine rattles, traffic moves, breath smells like red wine and battery acid. Lonely feet back to that lonely little shop, and again there he is, smiling behind the counter, sickly looking and lacking in charm.
_   Amidst the shelves of ancient books and forgotten memories, she imagines that she can hear the faint hum of a Christmas carol played poorly by machine._
_   Before she reaches the counter, the calendar has been laid upon it. For a moment she stands there, staring blankly down at it until the shopkeeper reaches out from behind his counter and takes her hands, guiding them to the appropriate door and stabbing it open when her numb fingers fail to register it, forcing the chocolate into her palms._
_   The song plays again and again, the same bars of music echoing through the dusty atmosphere of the shop. Beneath the chocolate is a picture of a solemn figure, his face obscured by a pair of dark glasses and a gaudy bandanna._
_   “A saint of sorts,” he whispers as he leans across the counter, “a hero of vice, the god who is torn apart amidst the fury of rage and tears.”_
_   Gently, he reaches out and places his hand beneath her chin, lifting her head until her eyes met hers._
_   “The god that is sacrificed. The seasons change. All our Christmases have now become Easter.”_]

In the shrine of a saint unacknowledged by the Catholic Church in San Andreas Xecul, Guatemala, an erasable programmable read only memory chip has been torn from a Christmas card to play several bars of music over and over. The site of the shrine changes regularly, and is always attended by two men who sit either side of the saint’s effigy and take receipt of offerings from pilgrims, placing cigarettes in the mouth of the figure and occasionally pouring alcohol down the same hole.

This is one of many sites across Guatemala, each one founded in praise of a sometimes-saint, a mystery deity who predates the forcible Christian conversion of the native populace and is rooted somewhere in the distant past of the Mayan religion.

The legend of Maximón—often also known as San Simón—is a figure often supplanted or combined during Holy Week with Judas Iscariot in more orthodox circles, an approach that not only brings in an association with Christ’s most favoured disciple into our festive narrative but also sets up Iscariot himself as a folk harvest god.

 

Like Mithra, like Dionysus, Maximón can be considered a fertility god of sorts. The context of Maximón is somewhat similar to that of the giant Olentzero, who we have previously discussed in his role during the winter solstice of the Basque country.

 

The story relates the manner in which Maximón, whilst the men of his village were away working in the fields, managed to simultaneously sleep with all of the women left behind in an orgiastic morass of flesh. There is some speculation as to whether Maximón was at the time possessed by a god, or whether he had always been the human incarnation of a deity, specifically the Mayan term, Mam, denoting kingship or ancestral respect when used in conjunction with an older man’s name. The ‘mams’ of Guatemala most often associated with Maximón were patrons of merchants and travellers, all of which led to veneration of Judas Iscariot during Easter and his gradual association with Maximón.

 

When the men of the village returned, they were obviously enraged with Maximón, and tore him apart, ripping his arms and legs from their sockets.

 

It is unclear how this man went from misdemeanour to deification, yet somehow effigies of the figure began to appear amongst the villages and towns of Guatemala, travelling shrines where the holy placed offerings of vice in favour of intercession in matters relating to revenge and desire.

 

The god sacrificed amidst the fields, beneath the branches of trees, returns to give blessing to those whose hearts are most human.

 

Tomorrow you will be with me in paradise.

 

Against all the auspices of accepted Christianity, Maximón is a saint of the disinvested, the bitter and the resentful. He is cruelty and revenge, the grace that G-d cannot bestow yet which we all yearn for at some time in our life or other.

 

Seated between his guardians, the effigy of Maximón waits, silent yet his lips parted. Inside is poured alcohol, between those lips are placed cigarettes.

 

Your new Lord of Misrule grants you an audience.

 

 

[* *]

 

Greth Schell

 

[_The bottle runs dry at night, the morning after always full of patchy memories and impressions of events that cause her to frown. This is not her real life, this ruin of the relationship she was once a part of now surrounding her at every turn. It is not Christmas, there is no snow. _
_   The 253 bus, change for the 29 at Finsbury Park, and then Trafalgar, that small shop once again, the bell above the door rings as she pushes against it, the calendar waits on the counter. _
_   Yet the shopkeeper is missing, his absence behind the rotting oak surface and the rusting till noticeable and distinct._
_   She approaches with a lack of caution, mindlessly going through the motions, tearing open the next door, obscuring the grand picture, and pulling free the chocolate piece within._
_   Sweetness and the faint suggestion of alcohol._
_   Behind the door rests the portrait of a haggard woman, bowed and hunched over, her husband straddling her, weighing her down, his arms raised to the sky in triumphant glee._
_   Sickness stirs in her stomach, bile rising in her throat._
_   She turns abruptly and vomits amidst the ancient shelves of unread books._]

In the Swiss city of Zug there stands a fountain topped by a statue of long suffering wife, Margaret Schell carrying her drunken and foolish husband, Peter, back from a night of revelry and merriment. The statue itself only dates as far back as 1977, yet the tradition of Margaret and Peter Schell is far older, possibly older even than the archetypal characters’ association with these two 18th century locals.

Dressed in a dunce’s cap, surrounded by friends and locals, Peter Schell is the indulgent fool, his role both that of the simpleton and the celebrant. Haggard and worn however, his wife is often conflated with the stock [_Huttefroueli _]character; an infirm and unattractive old woman who appears in many a carnival and tradition in European folklore.

On the evening of Christmas Day, children rush out into the streets of these Swiss towns and cities so close to the Alps, and like the Krampusse who trail amongst other streets, their noise and demands fill the air for all to hear, their voices calling, “Greth Schällebei! Greth Schällebei!”

It is then that Greth Schell appears, an actor with a false head protruding from the stomach to resemble Margaret, his own face towering above and decorated in makeup and the glamour of frivolity and drunkenness. To the children that call out, Greth Schell casts out sweets and treats—local pastries and meat, commercial chocolates, and sugared pleasantries—as fellow revellers,  the Lölis, whoop and make noise, and the clock bearing figure of the Zytlölimakes make all aware of how late in the day it is.

This is the procession of the absent minded, the celebration of the foolish.

Linked to more than one medieval custom of seasonal absurdity, it is easy to present Greth Schell’s enfeebled husband as another Lord of Misrule or Saturnalicius princeps, a fool appointed in charge of ceremonies, an idiot to impose ridiculous laws; a mockery of monarchy.

As the carnival, the Trychling, progresses, its festivities stretching out between the period of the 25th December to the 30th December, the actors playing the roles of Greth Schell, the Lölis, and the Zytlöli grow increasingly older. Beginning with children on Christmas Day, by the time the day before New Year’s Eve has been reached, the participants are adults, brandishing swatches of bound twigs and whips, their aggression equal to their merriment.

The old gods are present here, Adam is not here to either fast or celebrate the cycle of these days.

It is said that the ancient Romans often incorporated the praise of gods associated with their own during festivals as a means of turning the tide of fortune. During the Second Punic War, there is the suggestion that the Carthaginian god, Ba’al-Hamon was celebrated during Saturnalia due to the Greek association between Cronus and that rival deity.

What is present amongst the Alps—mountains that the Carthaginian hero, Hannibal scaled, even if he never reached as far as Switzerland—is a festival of ancient glory, a reminder of the sun, and the season before our streets became illuminated by gas lantern and crackling electricity.

High in the hills, calling out amidst the cobbled stones of towns and villages in the dark of night, the drunken fool wishes to celebrate—and in the forests, the oldest goat watches on with pride.

 

 

[* *]

 

Snow Lion

 

[_It does not feel like December. Although her breath freezes as she walks, there is no snow, no recreation of those blissful lost Hertfordshire winters, her parents smiling as she rolled snow on the grass of the house. _
_   In the mild winters of her adulthood, there are no snowmen to be made._
_   Imagination can no longer be summoned from the darkness; there is only now the disquiet._
_   She leans against the door and pushes it open, unaware of her motions, moving with heavy, reluctant steps upon the rotting wooden boards of the shop._
_   The calendar is before her again, the shopkeeper still absent._
_   Without thinking, she reaches down and opens the door, eating the chocolate, tasting nothing, seeing the image of the growling white-furred beast with protruding teeth and feeling her cheeks dampen with falling tears._
_   She does not see the sickly shopkeeper as he emerges behind from the rows of bookshelves, raising above his head the stark weight of a heavy club._]

Residing in the mountains of the east, the Snow Lion is considered the national symbol of Tibet, a noble beast who symbolises righteousness and purity. The roar from their jaws represents infinite emptiness, truth, and courage; the milk of the Snow Lioness containing a purity that can revive those in pain, and bring with it the peace of Dharma.

Traditionally perceived as a symbol of Tibet’s governments—the use now currently forbidden by the ruling Chinese authorities—the Snow Lion is the regal personification of joy, its appearance comparative with the Chinese Nián. Yet despite the similarities the functions of the two mythical animals are markedly different as the Snow Lion is diametrically opposed to the principles of the Nián, its presence bringing peace and tranquillity. Where there is only chaos following after the mythical Nián, the Snow Lion has, like the dragon also, been portrayed as the subject of cultural dance, a tradition influential within Tibetan culture and a sign of its close association with China. 

 

The Snow Lion is the animal as cultural symbol, the beast as expression of our better natures.

Shrouded in white fur with patches of green, the beast’s appearance has been compared to that of Lhasa Apso dog, a now familiar breed of shaggy haired canines originally bred as guardians of Buddhist temples in Tibet. Due to this association, the dog has often been nicknamed as ’the Snow Lion dog,’ its relationship similar to the association of the Shih Tzu breed with the statues of guardian lions so familiar in relics of Han Dynasty China.

Despite references to milk and the use of gender specific language in certain sources, the majority of Snow Lions depicted in Tibetan arts are mostly seen as gender neutral, their character seemingly more significant than the need to portray them as denizens of the animal world.

Yet for all the glory of the Snow Lion, there is little written upon this noble beast that we can relate in terms of stories. As a symbol, it is prevalent amongst articles and documents regarding Tibet, but there is no definitive tale I can share with you regarding the Snow Lion.

There is the suggestion that famed yogi, Jetsun Milarepa possessed a small amount of milk produced by the Snow Lioness, and that when a wealthy man attempted to purchase the milk for his own ends, he was refused, but other than this it is difficult finding evidence of the Snow Lion in narrative due to the oral traditions of Tibet and a lack of English language sources.

What we can talk of however, is the significance of its characteristics of humility and courage in the face of oppression. Whilst the situation regarding the People’s Republic of China and the occupation of Tibet is a far too complex issue to really delve into here, the Snow Lion has been used time and time again as a symbol of resistance.

 

Still decorating the flag of the Government of Tibet in Exile, the beast has long since become shorthand for the kind of sentiment and nostalgia reserved in Britain for characters such as King Arthur; a nobility inspired by wisdom.

Not strictly a festive or even remotely Christian character, the Snow Lion is indeed a symbol of winter, the snow that falls on the mountains the beast leaps amongst perhaps portraying a sort of purity reflective of the its own nature. Amongst our pantheon of festive beasts and helpers we can imagine the Snow Lion watching over the trials of Neanderthal man from its vantage amidst the mountaintops; we can picture it striving through the snow in the company of the Wendigo, firmly standing between the Badalisc and predatory Perchta.

As with Arthur, the world needs symbols like the Snow Lion; and what better time to reflect on peace and good will than at Christmas?

 

 

[* *]

 

The Nutcracker

 

She awakens to the sound of voices, the sweet taste of chocolate on her lips; a tiny fragment from an open door pushed between her lips whilst she slept, resting heavy on her tongue as her saliva became frenzied and her gag reflex awakened.

[_   She coughs, but is not heard._
_   “What worth would she have to me?” a gruff voice asks, the phrasing a threat against both the intended audience and her stupefied self._
_   She feels a numbness in her limbs, a weight in her legs and arms that prevents her from righting herself, from pulling herself up from the hard chair where she has been placed._
_   Her head lolls, and she tries to sway, to throw her body into action, to stir the flesh into action._
_   “She can fight,” assures the shopkeeper, his voice grating and full of pathetic insistence._
_   “What can she fight?” demanding the other. “Look at her; she is a sloth, a slug-a-bed.”_
_   She feels the taste of chocolate in her mouth, the familiar musk and mild tang of nuts amidst the sweetness of the cocoa._
_   The other is a soldier, she thinks to herself. He fights. Yet she cannot._
_   Her eyes will not open._
_   She will not fight._]

Whilst far from being a monster, there remains the essence of something ‘other’ about the notion of the prince who has been transformed into something else. The quality is prevalent in such fairy tales as Beauty and the Beast—stories classified as folktale type Aarne-Thompson-Uther 425C—and in the more wildly perceived religious ideal that the hero must in some way suffer by the translation of the divine into the flesh.

The Nutcracker is the man uncreated.

Originally appearing in 1816 in a tale by E. T. A. Hoffmann, the Nutcracker’s most famous iteration is as the hero in the ballet named after him, itself an adaptation of Hoffmann’s tale via the French novelist Alexandre Dumas. In the tale, the Nutcracker, like the Frog Prince, is nobility cursed by misfortune to live out an alternate existence until capriciousness or, again as with the Frog Prince, cunning can save him.

Originally the nephew of the clockmaker, Drosselmeyer, the Nutcracker’s curse originated from his attempts at the behest of the Mouse King to put right a hex his hateful wife had made upon Princess Pirlipat. Instrumental in the quest for the Crackatook nut that would save Pirlipat from the curse of ugliness placed on her, Drosselmeyer’s nephew fell victim to the same evil when he too angered the Mouse Queen. Despite his righteous acts, he was soon driven from the court due to his hideous appearance.

The boy’s head swelled up, his limbs taking on absurd proportions, his face warping into a garish, fixed smile as a beard of cotton sprouted from his pores. He was transformed into absurdity, a caricature of that which none wish to be reminded of—of enfeeblement, of decay, of old age.

Whilst not included in Tchaikovsky’s ballet, the history of the Nutcracker serves to highlight his selfless character and the root of his misfortune.

The traditional story of the Nutcracker begins with the Prince transformed, still battling against the vindictiveness of the Mouse King, and failing to lose heart; a leader of dolls and toys against a hideous animal devil with seven heads, a stand-in for the Creator, the raging Yaldabaoth of those highest heavens, contemptuous of the world he has fashioned but cannot control.

Unlike the Phantom, he does not go down without fighting; unlike the Hunchback, he does not sequester himself away in melancholy.

 

Instead, the Nutcracker continues to fight, even without his former identity, he fights on behalf of those less capable than him, and in doing so, finds himself the saviour of a young girl named Clara Stahlbaum (her name sometimes changed to Marie, in accordance with Hoffmann’s original tale).

When the Mouse King begins to blackmail Clara, it is then that the Nutcracker truly decides on his path. Bequeathed a toy sword from Clara’s brother, he fights and kills the Mouse King, returning with the felled monarch’s crowns and revealing his true identity to Clara only after she has confessed her love to him despite his awkward looks.

The confession causes the curse to be lifted, and the Nutcracker is restored, becoming once more Drosselmeyer’s nephew and revealing himself to be a prince.

The sun returns, light spreads out over the cold winter lands again.

The themes of the Nutcracker story are significant when it comes to the way in which we treat our winter festivals. Performed almost exclusively at Christmas, with some companies making the majority of their yearly profit based around performances of the ballet during the festive period alone, it is the story of the harvest and the restoration, the majesty of Amaterasu returning from the cave to restore light.

Like the symbol of Sol Invictus, like Mitrhas, like Baldr, like Christ himself, like Don Quixote even, the story of the Nutcracker is about second chances and nobility.

 

 

 

 

Sabre-toothed Tiger

 

[She hears the sound of a hasty thumb punching through cardboard and wonders if she had been asleep.
_   Her head turns, the other voice continues._
_   “Can she struggle against the fierce beasts of the heady mountain passes? Can she fight against the fiends of the Uncreator, the slathering Krampusse, and their servant tomte?”_
_   Silence for the longest moment, and then she hears the creak of floorboards, footsteps drawing closer towards her. _
_   Gently, her head is lifted, and in response her eyes open, sleep still struggling to pull her back down into the warmth of its embrace._
_   Before her stands the shopkeeper, a small square of chocolate in his free hand, and behind him, she can see the calendar, a further door open to reveal the  caricature of a massive cat with sharpened fangs._
_   The other man stands in shadow, his swollen outline suggested but not seen._
_   “No,” answers the shopkeeper staring directly at her, “but she can survive.”_]

I am a cat person.

Despite the arrogance and bad behaviour of cats, surely the most spoilt of domesticated animals, I have a great weakness for the forceful nature with which they present themselves; the overwhelming assurance that they are both right and entitled to whatever course of action they have decided to undertake.

The most famous of the erroneously named sabre-toothed tigers—save, of course for Trini, the Yellow Power Ranger—were the Smilodon and Megantereon, the former being the successor of the latter.

 

These two breeds of big cats stalked the Earth beginning with the Megantereon in the late Pliocene to the mid-Pleistocene era, and the Smilodon holding on until the Quaternary extinction event.

As predators, they survived through the bitter Quaternary Ice Age, prowling amidst the snow and ice of the frozen earth, and preying upon the massive fauna likewise struggling to come to terms with the changes in their environment.

Known for their sharpened and protruding canines, the various branches of the Felidae family evolved into the image of the sabre-toothed tiger familiar from faded school textbooks, these animals were considered social predators, oft hunting together and either stalking or ambushing prey. The majority of their food consisted of large prey—mastodons, ground sloths, horses, and the like—although there is some suggestion that they might also have scavenged kills abandoned by other predators, such as the fierce dire wolf.

Whilst lacking much of the adaptability of modern big cats, the sabre-toothed tigers were nonetheless adept at what they did; highly specialised predators expressive of many of the needs of the evolving planet, and possessed of the instinct necessary to exploit co-existing species. If we look back at other famed predators of those past epochs, the megalodon, for instance, then it is obvious that there was a trend for diversity when it came to the evolution of life in such fluctuating environments.

You had one job, Phil.

Often seen in the popular monster movies of previous decades, the sabre-toothed tiger is a significant icon of the Ice Age in pop culture; depictions of gangs of big cats surrounding the plodding mammoth, or a single cat outnumbered by muscled men with fur robes and beards, brandishing large sticks with sharpened flint blades now familiar and overused.

In our imagination, the sabre-toothed tiger haunts those same hallowed places as other predators, both real and unreal, which have helped shape our culture. They are the glimpsed shadows of urban legend, stalking the Moors and seen by roadsides in the dark night that falls only over silent and deserted towns and never over brightly lit cities.

There are seldom if any Christmas tales that I can name off the top of my head featuring the sabre-toothed tiger amongst the ranks of festive characters, and as such, perhaps you could be forgiven for thinking them incongruously included. It is difficult at first to imagine the populist image of Father Christmas’ workshop, happy elfs wrapping toys in brightly coloured paper and ribbon within, as all the whilst, a sabre-toothed[* *]tiger prowls in the snow, hissing bitterly and clawing at the door. Yet if you take Christmas to be the celebration of winter, a distillation of all of our fears and concerns with the changing weather, then there is little more archetypal of these fears than those experienced by our early ancestral settlements during the Ice Age.

Winter is a struggle against the elements, even now, and the sabre-toothed tigers were most certainly, even for only for a short while, the voice of nature during the reign amongst the fields and ice plains.

Our mutual survival alongside nature has never been assured.

 

 

[* *]

 

Straw Bears

 

[She remembers her childhood, her parents bitterly arguing downstairs as fairy lights flickered above her head.
_   She remembers the smell of an animal cooking in its own fat, the eager sensation of need, the desire to pull apart coloured paper and tear off ribbons, and the sorrowful, sad, emptiness that followed each opened gift._
_   She remembers feeling hollow and useless; there in the dark with the shopkeeper and his strange companion, she remembers how sad everything had seemed._
_   She was a child then. She is still a child. 32-years-old, and still a child, struggling to come to terms with loss, struggling to fit the pattern of her life together._
_   Despite the hand upon her face, she closes her eyes and tries to remember a time before Hackney, before bitterness, before fairy lights flickering. _
_   She asks for the memory of real candles, the sight of men dressed as monsters she could not name. She remembers the brush of leaf and branch, the feel of straw and wheat as they passed her by in the strange costumes, accompanied by their weird attendees._
_   What if the world she had experienced then was real, she asks herself._
_   What if she has somehow fallen through a hole in the world?_
_   What if she is not who she thought she was._]

The Straw Bear is another of those Germanic customs where seasons overlap, its ritual occupying a place in the twilight lands somewhere between Christmas, the largely forgotten festival of Candlemas, and Shrovetide.

Whilst named after animals, the custom of the Straw Bear is something closer in appearance to that of the imagery of the wildman and wodewose, each participant in the festival wrapped up in costumes of straw, wheat, or other crops, the face obscured by mask or foliage fashioned in the likeness of a sheaf.

Like the chain rattling Krampusse, the Straw Bears go from door to door begging for alms, for which they would be rewarded eggs, flour, lard, or other gifts, a payment for the little gods who arise in winter and fade away after spring. This custom is comparative with other festive traditions, such as guising or wassailing, and especially with the now familiar and popularised Hallowe’en custom of trick or treating.

Without wishing to draw too heavily on the faux revere and misinterpretation of James Frazer’s widely read and deeply flawed body of work, it would be erroneous to mention this custom without drawing attention again to the customs of the harvest festival, and the suggestive idea of human sacrifice and its enactment in the tradition and folklore of each rural village.

There is much here we can suggest of the May Queen and the Wassail Queen, of the struggle of Mithras and the celestial ox, the sacrifice of Isaac, and of both Dionysus and his tender habit of ripping apart children, and Christ’s own crucifixion. We may speak of the ’Obby ‘Oss, of Mari Lwyd and Penglaz, the dragon of Mons, of the totemic value of our monsters, and the manner in which the gods we have made assume aspects of the world around us.

The harvest god wears many faces. All our Christmases have now become Easter.

Yet what Frazer did not mention is the Namahage of Oga Prefecture, of the way in which even festivals not rooted in the damp soil and fresh grass of Celtic paganism and its lesser, more insipid modern reconstrunctionism.

The ritual of the Straw Bear, later incorporated to a degree into festivals such as Fastnacht, or similar Shrovetide processions in the Czech Republic, and St. Nicholas Parades in Austria, is a festival we have now become familiar with through these various little entries; the colourful companions that guide the Straw Bears from door to door, the offerings that are made to these wild men at certain times of the year.

The procession becomes a parade becomes a celebration, and at the end, the Straw Bears—or their likenesses—are burnt in a ceremony of symbolism.

The festival, whilst not familiar, is older than the words we have to describe it.

The forest remains.

Boy Bishop

 

[_Amidst the crowd, amidst the procession, she remembers a boy her age dressed in white robes and wearing the mitre of unusual office. _
_   Surrounded by other children, their own frail frames wrapped also in unusual costumes, were adults dressed in wheat and straw, passing by them in their own weird and perverse parade of unnatural celebration of the natural world._
_   Another world, a childhood she had forgotten about; before Hackney, before London even—the world she had forgotten she knew. _
_   “Have you seen the day, do you know what time it is?” she hears the shopkeeper ask._
_   She does not need to open her eyes again to realise that he is opening another door of the calendar—and so soon after the last!_
_   Soon she feels chocolate driven between her lips and the taste is like bitter tears._
_   A boy passes through the crowd._
_   She must awaken._]

The reformation brought about censor of many of the old ways, not least of all the tradition of canonical mockery present within Catholicism, the religion’s sole concession towards its absurdity, a knowing nod from the Church to the people it suppressed.

One such significant ceremony was the crowning of a Boy Bishop on St. Nicholas’ Day (6th December). The present ordained bishop would step down so as to symbolise the Christian ideal of humility, and in his place a child would be confirmed as master of ceremonies until the 28th December.

Following this confirmation, the boy would be attended by other children dressed in robes as monks and friars, a faithful following in the child’s new role as head of the community and representative of the faith. In this capacity, the Boy Bishop was capable of performing all of the church’s ceremonies save for the Holy Mass. He presented a sermon, confirmed the basic tenets of the faith, and was revered in a way that no child save for the distant and fabled boy kings of old once were.

Like the infant Christ in whose name festivities were enacted, the Boy Bishop was hailed as a symbol of glory and majesty.

Yet such celebrations cannot be spoken of without cause to again dredge up the subsumed traditions of the past—and again, we remember the harvest god.

Like the celebration of the Boy Bishop, the old Roman festival of Saturnalia was similarly presided over by a king—the Saturnalicius princeps—an often fool to who rule would be given over in this festival that represented the reversal of established order.

During Saturnalia, slaves and servants would be given power over their masters, festivities and absurdity would become commonplace, whilst normality and order would be eschewed in favour of these alternate agendas.

This tradition of pagan rite found its way into the celebrations of many a Christian festival, travelling through Roman contact with Celts, into the mainstream of the old ways and their gradual incorporation into Christian mythology.

The ceremony of the Boy Bishop blossomed and overlapped with the developing notion of the transformed Saturnalia, the medieval Feast of Fools, in which the child was sometimes replaced by an adult perceived of as being somehow foolish or made to appear foolish; to this candidate were given titles ranging from the ominous Lord of Misrule in England, to the absurd Abbot of Unreason and Pope of Fools in Scotland.

This festival too blossomed also into the Feast of the Ass, another comically threatening rite to allegedly celebrate the donkey that carried the Virgin Mary to the birthplace of the child Christ, but again rooted in Roman and pagan tradition, a carry-over from the Cervulus festival.

Even before the declarations of reformation and resentment, Europe understood the finite nature of Catholic ritual and the absurdity inherent.

Yet amongst all of this celebration of stupidity, it is important to remember the humility and innocence of both the Boy Bishop and his adult counterparts. Whilst ostensibly celebrated, these children were also cruelly treated and mocked by events, the absurdity of the ceremony carrying over into a bitter resentment of those without rights or voices to defend themselves.

A festival of cruelty to remember the bitter hatred and jealousy of Herod’s supposed slaughter of children framed within the foolishness of Saturnalian tradition, the Feast of Fools, and the role of the Boy Bishop were not always forgiving.

A sacrifice was made, and whilst unlike the pagan rituals of seasonal change no life was lost, it is not for us to suggest there were no scars left upon the innocent participants of the event.

 

 

[* *]

 

Black Tortoise

 

[Her mind is quiet for a while, and then suddenly there is noise and she is awake, sitting up in bed, the 253 bus passing below her window and rattling the glass in the frame.
_   Her heart races; sweat drips down the curve of her spine as she looks around her, taking in the commonplace nature of her room, the insignificant everyday detail of the life she has led thus._
_   She struggles to remember the details of her dream—the shopkeeper, the soldier in the shadows, the words and names they used—yet she is unable to fully bring clarity to the fading memories. Too quickly, cotton wool wraps her mind; details fail, subsumed._
_   She rises, and in the kitchen, a match sparks and a hob warms. There is oil in a pan, defrosting bacon; frozen flesh of winter sow killed in the early morning mist and wrapped in cellophane, stocked on supermarket shelves._
_   The dead blister and burn in the oil before her._
_   She feels her innards rebel, her stomach contracting, her intestines shifting, tightening their grip within her._
_   She closes her eyes and leans against the side of a cabinet to steady herself._
_   It is only when she opens them again that she notices the advent calendar from that curious little shop standing amidst the unwashed mugs and plates, the latest door open, the chocolate absent._
_   Within is a portrait of a turtle struggling against a snake, their bodies made of rotting flesh._
_   Her mouth opens in a scream._]

The Black Tortoise is the symbol of the encroaching winter and the bitter north winds in ancient Chinese mythology, an immortal presence depicted in the way in which scholars read the constellations of the night sky.

Often portrayed as a turtle ensnared by a snake, or as a mysterious soldier-general in service of the Taoist deity, Xuan Wu—with whom the Black Tortoise constellation also shares a name—their story is usually divorced from their early origins in Taoism despite the basis of the tale.

Associated with funeral rites, and sometimes appearing as stone statues in graveyards, the image of the turtle and the snake was used to receive favour from the constellation above for those wishing to be born again into one of the seven mansions under the authority of the Black Tortoise.

Yet whilst seen as benefactors in this instance, the origin of the Black Tortoise casts the initial role of the writhing snake and struggling turtle as demons born of the man from whom they take their collective title.

Depicted often as a butcher by trade, Xuan Wu was originally seen as a man who grew restless with the cruelty of life. In the later narrative, he is shown as finally feeling regret after the slaughter of so many beasts in the name of his profession—a parallel almost with the narrative of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story, The Slaughterer—and retires to the mountains of Hubei Province to reflect on his life.

It is whilst living in the wilderness that Xuan Wu encounters a woman giving birth, and having assisted her, he has a vision whilst washing her bloody garments in the stream following her ordeal. The women is revealed to be the goddess of mercy, Guanyin, and Xuan Wu is so moved by her message and made so aware of the horror and suffering he has inflicted on animals that he pulls out his own intestines to wash them clean in the water.

The stream of the river turns black with blood and viscera, and only as Xuan Wu dies, his intestines sinking slowly to the bottom of the stream, does the water finally run clear again.

Moved by Xuan Wu’s remorse, the Jade Emperor, Yù Dì, grants him immortality, replacing his innards with divine intestines that dead flesh has never passed through.

Yet whilst Xuan Wu is redeemed, his contaminated innards are not.

In the moment of his resurrection, a renewal not related to the harvest festivals that we have spoken so much of this year but indeed running parallel to such themes, the hideous stomach and winding guts fed on animal flesh take on demonic personas of their own. From the flesh of a man fed on animals, the dead become devils, a nightmarish turtle forever struggling against the serpent that winds about its shell.

Raging at first against all who crossed its path, the snake and turtle that comprise the Black Tortoise were subdued eventually by Xuan Wu himself, inheriting both his name and his training and becoming his disciples.

In this way, winter is subdued and humbled, made to work for the needs of the people. The message is both metaphorical in terms of its agricultural context, and spiritual in its commentary on the contamination of the body by vice.

The rise of the Black Tortoise from the stream is again no different from Mithra bleeding in the field, the sacrifice of the Saturnalicius princeps, the return of Amaterasu from the cave.

 

The Black Tortoise is indeed winter itself.

 

 

[* *]

 

Hāji Piruz

 

[The flames flicker beneath the pan, fire lapping against blistering metal.
_   Her mouth is open but the scream has long since died, and in her head the image of the rotting messenger persists, burning brighter and brighter, until at last it fades and in her mind’s eye she again sees the calendar._
_   ‘Careful now,’ a voice whispers as that antique artefact swells to fill her unseeing vision, ’what doors have been opened can now no longer be closed; those lost after All Hallows must now make their way as best they can without aid of fire or purity.’_
__][_   Her breath becomes shallow, the dead scream still like a weight upon her tongue even though it can no longer be heard._
_   She sees the calendar open again, sees the door pulled wide, and inside is the portrait of a herald, an attendant in red robes with soot and ash smeared across his face._
_   This is a messenger, she thinks in reverence, yet she is unsure of the message._
_   When her eyes open, the meat has burnt entirely away to ash in the flames, and all sign of previously life has been quietly spirited away._
_   This is a message._]

The figure is familiar perhaps; a face smeared with soot, darkened by a life lived in the presence of blistering flame. We can imagine maybe that there is some correlation between this figure and one of the more racially sensitive depictions of Zwarte Piet—that perhaps this curious character in his pointy hat and red robes is analogous with the moor freed from slavery by St. Nicholas and arriving from Spain in a steamboat to herald the forthcoming visitation of his liberator.

Yet whilst the role of Hāji Piruz is similar to Zwarte Piet in the fact that both are heralds, the agenda of these two characters is very different. The latter is the messenger of approaching judge; Hāji Piruz arrives in cities in Iran during the festival of Nowruz to herald the arrival of the New Year.

Both the festival and Hāji Piruz are significant in their reminders of the ancient traditions of Zoroastrianism, and in their comparison with the idea of a festival herald, there is an overlap with other stories we have shared in these short missives.

Prior to the modern evolution of the character, a king was elected for the five days of the end of the year and given the title of Hakem Panj Ruzeh. This temporary monarch would then proceed through the city with five attendants, singing foolish songs, and behaving absurdly until the end of his reign with the celebration of the New Year and the return of order.

A king, a bishop, a boy; the titles and names are different but the role is the same.

Further back still, it is believed that Hāji Piruz is a reminder of the old order of Zoroastrian fire-keepers, his red garb reflective of their office, and his message one of celebration on behalf of the white robed priests of the old Persian faith.

Certainly the Magi in their Phrygian caps who allegedly travelled beneath the North Star to Bethlehem would have been familiar with the tradition of Hāji Piruz, perhaps even in their time having been responsible for commanding the keepers of the flame in those aged Zoroastrian temples to go out amongst the people at New Year.

Accompanied by musicians and singers, the presence of Hāji Piruz is considered a cause of celebration and a reason to rejoice. Like the appearance of Father Christmas in shopping centres in the West, the sight of actors portraying Hāji Piruz is something of a reminder of the New Year’s festivities.

However, there has been speculation by scholars that the role of this messenger lies deeper than any comparative saint, and that the heritage of Hāji Piruz goes much further back than Zoroastrianism and is in fact rooted within the broader mythology of Mesopotamia, its own heritage evolving from the Proto-Indo-Iranian religion that gave birth to Hinduism in India and Zoroastrianism in Iran. This claim however is hard to prove, despite the appeal in the association with the Summerian god of shepherds, Tammuz, there is little evidence to relate the role of the Persian messenger with the former story of death and rebirth.

A king, a bishop, a boy, a shepherd, a child in swaddling clothes.

Despite the lack of evidence needed to establish the two concepts, what is left is the idea of a character that remains in sync with many of the traditions that we are familiar with despite the different context and language.

With tidings and joy, Hāji Piruz arrives, and with him, he brings a message of festivity and warmth; the celebrations of a New Year.

 

[* *]

 

The Magi

 

[_The flame withers and dies; the pan full of ash as she crosses the short distance from the kitchen to the window. Behind the glass there is noise and carols and lights aglow even though the darkness has not yet descended. _
_   This is East London in winter; this is the cold chill and the beating heart._
Beneath the window, another bus passes, and on every street, in every corner shop, at every window of that rumbling double-decker, she sees the same three faces with but subtle variation, each one recognisable as the other.
_   She saw them all and she knew them by name, messengers three of a different faith._
_   Kagpha._
_   Badadakharida._
_   Badadilma._
_   And if they were messengers, then she could only be…_]

The Magi, sometimes wise men, sometimes kings, are a quintessential detail of what is considered the Christmas Nativity scene. Often juxtaposed with the shepherds who likewise attended Christ’s birth, the Magi were used as a metaphor for the fact that Christ came to save both the rich and the poor alike; that His birth was salvation for all, not just for the elite.

This is the heart of the Christian myth—and yet, like so much else, the root of Christianity lies with older traditions later subsumed into a single Westernised narrative.

The Zoroastrian Magi were the priestly class responsible for keeping the faith and structure of teaching passed down by their prophet and preparing the kingdom for festivals and celebrations. The Zoroastrians were considered as ahl al-ḏimmah by the Umayyad Caliphate following the overthrow of the Sassanid Empire, although not fondly, yet it does prove that there is a historical association between Zoroastrianism and the blossoming of Christianity during this period.

The issue with the authenticity of the Magi however lies with the Gospels.

Whilst Gnostic philosophy was oft denounced by the early Church Fathers, it is important to remember that the story of the Magi only appears in one of the four canonical Christian Gospels, the Gospel of Matthew. This makes the presence of these three priests or wise men at the cradle of Christ difficult to truly verify in what we know of Christ’s early life.

 

In fact, if we are brutal about the matter, due to a lack of sources there is no more to say that the Magi existed than there is to claim or deny the Infancy Gospels detailing Christ’s boyhood.

Regardless of this, the Magi are a staple of Christian myth, and, as such, they are inseparable from Decembrian festivity.

Divorced from the origin of the word however, the Magi became, like the Gnostic, Simon Magus—himself potentially a cypher for St. Paul—reduced in Christmas canon to magicians and monarchs, their priestly robes exchanged for crowns and principalities.

Western mythology names them as Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar; Ethiopia knew them as Hor, Karsudan, and Basanater, and even Chinese Christians found a way to incorporate them into their own stories, interpreting ’from the East’ to be in relation to their own culture.

Unlike some of our more horrific patrons of the festive seasons, there is little I can add here in terms of monstrous tale or malicious behaviour. In fact in all instances where they are mentioned following their invention by Matthew, the Magi were celebrated as that most clichéd of ideals, the ‘noble pagan,’ a label that would surely have secured them a place amongst the Greek scholars who lived before Christ in Dante’s vision of the Inferno, were it not for the fact that medieval myth could not help but martyr all of its saints.

A shrine was moved from Constantinople to Milan claiming the horrible deaths each of the Magi had endured in the name of Christianity following their conversation years after their encounter with the Christ child.

Regardless of the authenticity of the lineage and story of the Magi, they were often associated with another Christian myth of the Middle Ages—Prester John, the fictional Christian king of a fabled nation in the East whose alleged presence was often used as an excuse to rally against Jews and Muslims, and to whom aid was pledged at the beginning of the Second Crusade.

It was alleged that Prester John was a descendant of one of the Magi, and his rule was part of an unbroken link with the Christian past, threatening to be snuffed out by Judaism and Islam in the Middle East.

Regardless of the eventual corruption of Caliphate control over Persia, and the persecution of the Zoroastrians, the definition and unity—if not the equality—of the ‘peoples of the Book’ remained.

In Western Europe, however, this was not the case.

 

 

[* *]

 

Boreas

 

[All at once, the wind seems to rise up, rattling the window, blowing the kitchen door and slamming it shut as she turns, and with a cry of surprise finds herself again confronted by the shopkeeper; his withered frame slouched over in a chair at the table.
_   She stammers, struggling to find words, but he does not look at her, his attention focused solely on the far wall of her kitchen._
_   Resting before him on the table is the ornate advent calendar, a further door open._
_   “Your guess is right,” he advises her, his brow a series of frown lines. “I did not wish for you to know this just yet however, makes the game less fun, less believable.”_
_   Again, she hears the howl of the wind, the gathering crowd of familiar faces beneath the window momentarily unseen._
_   “Three days left, give or take,” the shopkeeper says, perhaps a little forlornly. “Today is the winter wind that besieges you; that rises up to push you down, to hide away the truth of this and that. But tomorrow… well, tomorrow…”_]

The bitter winter wind manifests from the north, rising up against the anchored Persian ships of Xerxes the Great, and smashing them to pieces on the rocks. In celebration, the Greeks gave tribute to the god, Boreas, his appearance in Hellenic art being that of a broad shouldered man with a violent temper and a billowing cloak, his hair and beard marked with frost and ice.

Like Hermes, Boreas was often depicted with winged feet, or sometimes more unusually with snakes for feet—a suggestion not only of his swiftness and violence of motion, but also perhaps of his tenacity and cunning, the snake certainly celebrated in many mystery cults, not least of all in the system of syncretic beliefs that would become Gnosticism.

From time to time, Boreas was also depicted as having actual wings himself and often in possession of a conch shell. This last symbol is apparently to do with the cultural significance of the north, and the crawl of life up from the oceans, an association that is also present in Hinduism, Vishnu himself owning the very conch shell from which all of the waters of the world once spilt out.

Considered a relative of the Athenians by marriage, the raging winds that assailed the Persian fleet were an act that placed Boreas firmly on the side of the Greeks during the tempestuous Greco-Persian Wars. Whilst his initial relationship with Oreithyia, the daughter of King Erekhtheus of Athens caused some consternation, conducted as it was in the manner of a kidnapping—a tradition that seems to be a very common method of wooing in antiquity—the pairing soon became a favoured one, especially in terms of Boreas’ perceived alliance with Athens.

Following the non-consensual consummation of the marriage, Oreithyia gave birth to four children: twin boys, Zethes and Calais—known collectively as the Boreads—and two daughters, one named Cleopatra, and the other named Chione, a goddess in her own right over the principality of snow. Yet it was not only demigods that Boreas fathered. Like many of the Greek gods, Boreas’ family tree also includes a number of children fathered by his relationships with animals, in this case, the mares of King Erikhthonios, which were later granted as a gift to King Laomedon of Troy.

This means that not only did Boreas sleep with Erikhthonios’ daughter, but also his pets too.

Classy guy, right?

As well as being a god of the winter winds, Boreas was also considered one of the three deities—the other two being Apollo and Leto—of the idyllic nation of Hyperborea. The thing is, Boreas was also the ancestor of all of the giant Hyperboreans that populated the land… and the mother was his own daughter, Chione.

Not exactly the best of CVs.

Both Boreas and Chione acted as the high priest and priestess of Hyperborea at Apollo’s behest.

Along with his own siblings—Notus, the south wind, Zephyrus, the west, and Eurus, the east—Boreas was considered one of the Anemoi, elemental gods who controlled that most unpredictable aspect of the seasons.

Wreathed in ice and snow, contemptuous of human ambition and goals, and fully dedicated to making manifest his own world, it is easy to see how often it is our gods that have been shaped in our own image and not vice-versa.

 

 

[* *]

 

Elfs

 

[“W-What are you?” she asks.
_   He shrugs, a playful smile on his dark lips._
_   “A shopkeeper,” comes the reply, playful giggle rising in his throat._
_   She shakes her head, staring at him, noting for the first time, the crown of holly and ivy amidst his tousled hair, and slowly she takes a step towards him._
_   “What are you?” she asks again._
_   He holds her gaze, does not flinch, staring deep into her hazel eyes, and then finally turns away as her hand reaches his face, stroking the green complexion of his sharp, pointed features._
_   “It is easier to ask what I am ]not[,” he responds, “but for you, I am a guide, a servant on your path. And this game has yet to be fully played.”_
_   He stops and laughs suddenly, wildly, throwing his head back with such violence that she is forced to step away from him._
_   “But we already know who you are.”_
_   The laughter dies, the smile fades._
_   “Now we need only discover your adversary.”_
__
__]The term ‘elves’ is an American gloss over the earlier term, elfs. This is one of those rare times that the American method of spelling is not closer to an older form of English than our own wildly divergent colloquialisms. Regardless of the etymology however, the elfs of folklore and myths, irrespective of what you may wish to call them—comparative even with faeries during the Victorian era—are a rule unto themselves.

Noted as being like us, but far removed from us, the elfs occupied a special place between gods and men. Successors to the Greek ideal of demigods like Herakles, elfs in Nordic culture also became an unwitting sort of psychopomp; guides whose presence was between our world or of the next.

Yet again it is to America that we must turn to understand the incorporation of elfs into our Christmas mythology—and again we must consider the development of American linguistics and the use of the term ‘elves’.

Louisa May Alcott’s Christmas Elves was published in 1850, and featured a group of characters supporting Father Christmas in his winter hideout as he prepared for his round trip across the world, the definitive judge of filial piety.

Their inclusion followed a note of description in Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, in which Father Christmas himself was described as an elf, a distinction that served to divorce the former saint of antiquity from the current figure present in modern pop culture.

Such has been the impact of Alcott’s work that in modern society there is now a distinction between the fantasy elfs made popular again by Tolkien, and the now familiar image of those portly, friendly, toy makers of that aged grandfather’s workshop. 

Absorbing somehow the traits of craftsmanship from their Norse rivals, the dwarfs, the Christmas elfs have become creatures of modern industria. This association with work, with manufacture, has somehow led to the elfs becoming a symbolic metaphor for the trends of seasonal capitalist retail measures. What was once the stuff of quests is now an Amazon.com wish list.

How the West End was won.

Similar in concept to the tomten or snønisser, the elfs became local gods of a sort. It may now be impossible to restore them to the idea of their former state as intermediaries with nature, but we can at least begin to view them as tutelary spirits, a notion that even[_ Santa Claus: The Movie _]takes up to some degree.

Sweating in workshops, gifted with craftsmanship, there is a deeper reading in the significance of elfs than we presently pay mind to.

 

Samael

 

Her eyelids flutter, alternating between darkness and light, darkness and light.

[_   She hears the sound of his fingers scratching at one of several unopened doors of the calendar, and her heart trembles, her legs go weak._]

[_   In her mind’s eye, she sees beyond the opening, even as she feels the shopkeeper push the acrid, melted chocolate into the palm of her hand, folding her fingers over it._]

[_   There is a figure in the darkness of her mind, beautiful and seductive, winter winds and snow stirring about the pure white feathers that rise from his back._]

[_   She feels desire._]

[_   And in that desire, she understands the distinction between what is asked of her as a woman, and what is asked of her from the past._]

 

In varied calendars of angelology, Samael—who bears the epithet,[_ ”the venom of G-d”_]—is named as fifth in rank of the archangels, and presides over the month of December. 

 

Responsible for the northerly elements and the bitter winds, Samael is considered an expression of the serpent that first tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, and, according to the 1st century scholar, Rabbi Eliezer, was the being also responsible for later seducing Eve and fathering the murderous Cain.

 

Appointed by G-d yet given free reign, Samael occupies a curious position amongst the varied Heavens of Rabbinic lore. To all purposes and intents, he appears to be an agent of the Almighty, and yet there is much in his later characterisation that suggests he is an influence on the later development of the concept of the Devil; the role of the accuser itself swiftly divorced from office of Heaven to enemy of humanity.

 

With twelve wings spread from his back, despite his Heavenly glory, Samael is associated with carnal desire and the worldly realm of the flesh, being typically named as one of the many angels who, in the Book of Enoch, went down to Earth to copulate with women and perpetuate the Nephilim on the world.

 

It is only fitting that given this association with flesh, Samael quickly became associated with the corrupt Demiurge in Gnostic philosophy, his name oft being supplemented for that of the alternate Yaldabaoth.

 

[“It is I who am G-d; there is none apart from me.” When he said this, he sinned against the entirety. And this speech got up to incorruptibility; then there was a voice that came forth from incorruptibility, saying, “You are mistaken, _]Samael[” – which is, “god of the blind.”_]

 

As well as being a patron of that month which in itself is traditionally most adverse to humanity, Samael was also considered both the patron saint of the Roman Empire, and the guardian angel of Esau, whose story is equally full of examples of how corrupted a spirit can be when obsessed with flesh.

 

Cain, Esau, Samael; Yaldabaoth.

 

Folklore aligns to tell a grander tale of December than we had expected.

 

The old gods have not yet been forgotten.

 

 

[* *]

 

The Virgin Mary

 

[“Yes,” the shopkeeper whispers, but his voice is now no longer external, he is talking directly from inside of her head. “Now you understand; the old god, and the new god.”
_   The world around her fades and falters, washing back and forth over her like waves upon the shore._
_   Sickness; motion sickness._
_   She is on the back of a beast, its coarse fur beneath her hands, and then, all at once, she is in a bed of woven sheets, tossing and turning in her nightdress._
_   “We chose you because you had the right heart to withstand what will be asked of you.”_
_   Struggling, she shakes her head gently from side to side, her chest heaving; her forehead damp with sweat._
_   “The old god and the new god.”_
_   Bile fills her throat, a stabbing pain piercing her._
_   “This is the future. This is the past we have made. This is your burden to carry.”_
_   A pause, a giggle, and a presence close to her once more._
__] [_  “And if we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended; that you have but slumber’d here while these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream.”_
_   The pain intensified, yet with it came the conviction._
_   She would survive._
_   She may not be capable of fighting like others, but she would survive._
__][_   Forever and a day._
__
__]The Virgin Mary is for life, not just for Christmas. Yet it is difficult to find a role more significant in the Apocrypha and folklore surrounding Marian tradition than the role of virgin mother of Christ. 

According to legend, Mary was 12 when she married her husband. Joseph was aged 90, a patron and friend of Joachim and Anne, Mary’s parents. Joseph was the man charged with looking after the miracle that was Mary, herself the result of a virgin birth. She became pregnant at age 14 through the work of the Holy Spirit in Christian tradition, the word of G-d in the Muslim tradition.

Throughout her life she remained a virgin, Christ’s fellow siblings in the Gospels being hastily passed off as being the children of Joseph via his former marriage by medieval apologists.

The life of the Virgin Mary is mostly one left to the margins of the Gospels and the furtive imagination of the fantasists and storytellers who came later. As someone interested in the development of Gnosticism and the simple tenet of “telling a lie to tell the truth,” it is endlessly fascinating for me to see how much of the accepted doctrine of Marian devotion comes across as wishful thinking. 

Despite her absence in later Biblical accounts, and despite the fierce ideological aggressive aimed at women by the later calcifying dogma of the medieval Catholic Church—see the myth of Pope Joan for one example, the trial of witches for another—it is assumed by many that Mary continued to play a role of authority amidst the early Church, acting as the ‘elect lady’ mentioned in John, and presiding over events in a matriarchal manner, the elder mother-priestess of the cult.

In this manner it is easy to cast Mary as Amaterasu, an eternal sun goddess, the Sol Invictus herself.

The old ways change, yet the stories we have of winter remain.

 

 

[_ _]

 

2014

(for 2014, Monster Calendar was released as a ‘double A side’ with the short story, 9 months, 3 years, 14 years, 19 years, 20 years, 27 years, 37 years, 51 years, 409 years, released on alternating weeks until 25th[_ December)_]

 

[* *]

 

Tammuz

[* *]

The cave is set deep in the earth, the rich smell of soil in the air all about you. In a thousand years, this cave, this place of power, will be rededicated to another deity, a star that rises in the east and spreads its light out across the surface of the world.

[_   Yet here, in this moment the old god and his secret mysteries preside. There is no dream of that time that will follow the Roman ruler, his dedication to the new faith, his whisper in death of confession to the new king._]

[_   Here, in the deep of the earth, there are only old things, old ways, old secrets from before the time when people had words, voices, mouths to whisper such things._]

[_   Here in the dark, in the depths, there is only Tammuz; Tammuz and the mystery that so surrounds him._]

 

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, a basilica ran by the Armenian Apostolic, Greek Orthodox, and Roman Catholic strands of Christianity—where every Christmas Eve, carol singers gather outside to sing hymns of the festive season—once was a sacred place in the Ancient Mesopotamian religion.

 

Said to have been the site where once stood the manger where the infant Christ first exited Heaven and entered the world, the shrine of [*Tammuz *]was originally associated with the ancient Sumerian god of the harvest, who in turn was associated by the Greeks with the Levantine Adonis, who became a primary figure in the mystery cults.

 

Christ, Adonis, Mithras: in Plato’s analogy of the cave, the man who exits the darkness and sees the world as it is gains a new sight, a new perspective on the world he originated in. All of these things are similar to the experiences that initiates of Tammuz and his peers must once have gone through.

 

Like Mithra and many of the festival gods, and, to a degree, like the tale of Orpheus and the Biblical account of Lot, Tammuz’s story is all about loss; a sacrifice that is made to warm the people through the winter months, consigned to the underworld, vowing to return six months later.

 

In a rare cameo, he is mentioned by name in the original Bible, much to the disgust of the prophet Ezekiel. He later appears as a walk on part in Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, and is name-checked by Oscar Wilde in Charmides.

 

All of which makes him one of the most well-known mystery cult figures in terms of popular culture. In fact, if all the pre-canonised Christianity mystery gods were to club together to form a band, you can bet that Tammuz would probably be the frontman.

 

And so, this Christmas, whilst carol singers gather in Bethlehem, whilst all across the country, believers and sentimentalists fill the aisles for midnight mass, somewhere in that deep, dark cave, ancient Tammuz is also waiting for his own birth rite, six months later, when the sun begins to shine once more.

 

 

[* *]

 

Xuan Wu

 

Yet the king you await will not rise in the east with the sun, but appears rather with the chill winds of the north.

[_   Outside, amidst the dirt and dust of the desert, there is a sense of calm, the mountains rising, casting long shadows in the setting of the dying sun._]

[_   This could be the end of the world, you think solemnly to yourself; this could be the moment where everything falls into silence forever._]

[_   Yet it will not, and in your heart, you know this._]

[_   For in the north, the Mysterious Heavenly Upper Emperor and his two generals stand guard over the elements, warding off ill and presiding over the world in grace and peace._]

 

Often conceived of as the god of the winter season and originally a butcher, the Taoist deity, Xuan Wu is said to have achieved enlightenment upon the realisation of the immorality of his trade, accompanied by many, many years of lonesome reflection in the Wudang Mountains of Hubei, China.

 

Whilst in the mountains, still deeply ashamed of the blood that stained his hands, Xuan Wu was called upon to help a woman in labour, who turned out to be the goddess of mercy herself, Guanyin.

 

Whilst washing the woman’s soiled clothes in the river, Xuan Wu noticed the blood running from her clothes and forming his own name in the stream, an accusation and reminder of the many, many deaths he had caused.

 

Consumed by sorrow in relation to the lives he had taken and the meat he had eaten, Xuan Wu eventually tore open his own stomach and began to furiously wash his guts in the water, until finally all the blood of his body was washed downstream and he was at last purified.

 

It was at this moment that Xuan Wu was said to have achieved enlightenment and forgiveness for his sins.

 

During one of the many conflicts and civil wars that place during the Ming dynasty, the Yongle Emperor claimed that Xuan Wu and his two generals were instrumental in his success in defeating his nephew, the Jianwen Emperor. 

 

Following this victory, the new Emperor instructed that many temples and shrines to the god be built in the Wudang Mountains, honouring his glory and the assistance he had provided during the conflict.

 

As illustrated in the 15th century classic, Journey to the West, the two mysterious generals serving beneath Xuan Wu were the Snake General, and, of course, the Tortoise General—both personifications of Xuan Wu himself and the Black Warrior of the North, who adopted many of Xuan Wu’s traits in later legends and himself was associated with the winter season.

 

 

 

[* *]

 

Beira

 

Over those cold mountains, an ill wind blows, and despite the warmth of the desert, you begin to shiver.

[_   It is then that you see the tremendous figure amidst the crags and shards of the mountain’s broken face, and though you cannot see the details of her figure, you know within you that she is ancient; implacable, eternal, shrivelled up in the flow of time as it continues pouring downstream into a final end and eventual, eternal repeat._]

[_   She stands at the beginning of the world, just as she stands at the end of the world, and you know there are questions forming in your mind that you must never, never ask._]

[_   She is wrapped in rags, a single eye burning with inhuman brightness in the withered blue flesh of her features, her white hair moving in the wind like serpents._]

[_   She is not the figure you have waited for, not the monarch whose name you praise—yet make no mistake, she is indeed royalty._]

 

The name [*Beira *]does not appear until the 20th century, when first coined by the Scottish folklorist, Donald Alexander Mackenzie. The name is intended to be the replacement for a possibly forgotten term in Scottish culture denoting the same mother goddess that appears in other branches of Gaelic mythology. Thus, whilst she is named in a more general sense in both Gaellic Scottish and Irish as the Cailleach, and on the Isle of Man as Caillagh ny Groamagh, an echo of her also appears in English mythology as Black Annis.

 

Reported to be a titanic, one-eyed giant with blue skin and teeth the colour of rust, Beira was the Queen of Winter, a terrible figure responsible for creating Loch Ness by turning her wayward maid into a river. She is also allegedly responsible for fashioning Scotland with the use of a magic hammer, a theme that draws parallels with the role of blacksmiths in much of European mythology, not least of all in the story of Wayland the Smith. 

 

Whilst not a creator per se, it could be argued that the significance of Wayland across many different cultures might be part of a trend by which the former matriarchal religions were reconstructed as facets of a new culture reinforced by the spread of a patriarchal system.

 

Like Lilith before her, it is possible that Beira’s terrifying appearance stems from an attempt to demonise her. Possible weight to this theory is the fact that the word ‘cailleach’ became a catch-all term for ‘hag’ in modern Gaellic.

 

Being a ruler of winter, it is said that Beira was obliged to give up her throne as the seasons changed, making way for spring, and the fairer goddess, Brìghde, who later become equated with St. Brigid by the Catholic Church.

 

If the 1st February is fair, then it means that Beira is out collecting firewood for another lengthy few months of bitter cold. If, however, the day is cold, it means that Beira has not set forth, and that winter will soon be over as her stock of wood depletes.

 

So, whilst it might be counterproductive for those of us struggling with increasing energy prices, it might be in the best interest for all of us to hope the beginning of February is as cold as possible.

 

 

[* *]

 

Dire Wolf

 

Yet as you gaze at the giant figure, you become painfully aware of a presence circling you, massive in size, lumbering on four paws, breath heavy, streaming from its nostrils like mist.

[_   Those who come after you in the countless centuries that follow will talk of spirit animals and guides that take the guises of beasts in order to lead you through both the wilderness and your dream._]

[_   This beast is nothing like a guide, at least not for you. Perhaps for the earth, for the endless desert, the sunken cave and the rising mountains, the beast owes allegiance, but to you it is indifferent save for a passing wariness, skulking across the sands on its heavy paws._]

[_   You draw your breath in sharply, don’t move._]

[_   With yellow, baleful eyes, the dire wolf watches you as it passes._]

 

I never played Dungeons & Dragons as a child, but I always appreciated that idea of ‘take a normal animal and make it bigger’ that seemed to pervade the various books on monsters you could use for your games.

 

One such instance was the fabled dire wolf, a wolf larger in size than those we share the planet with nowadays. The 3.5 version of Dungeons & Dragons lists the dire wolf as being approximately nine foot in length, and weighing over 57 stone—roughly about the same size and weight as my large cat, Cassidy.

 

It came as something of a surprise to me to realise that, though not quite as large as Dungeons & Dragons might have us believe, the dire wolf did actually exist during the early Pleistocene epoch and Holocene era.

 

Assumed to have been about five foot in length, the dire wolf was the heavy-set older brother of the species that eventually supplanted it. Assuredly originating in North America—although there remains an unproved theory about its potential South American origins—its prey was mostly larger beasts, such as the hefty mammoths and even sabre-toothed tigers.

 

In order to survive against such massive foes, the dire wolves often hunted as a pack, prowling the vast wastelands of California.

 

Yet as the climate changed, and the world began to warm, many of the giants on which the dire wolf preyed began to die out, and with no prey, they sound found themselves on the edge of extinction, hunted across the plains by the younger, smaller, and more intelligent canis lupus, and the emerging coyotes.

 

Despite its loss, there is something in the hideous exaggeration of the size of the dire wolf that matches our own childhood fears, thus when we hear the call of wolves in the dark, perhaps it is not the younger grey wolf that first springs to mind, but rather some grotesque parody more akin to our perception of what the dire wolf must have been like.

 

 

[* *]

 

Tschäggättä

[* *]

And in those distant mountains, movement catches your eye again, a procession of figures slowly winding their way up the path.

[_   You advance, cautiously at first for fear that you will attract again the attention of the dire wolf, and as your feet carry you forward, you begin to make out the shapes of the procession._]

[_   At first you thought they were human, perhaps they once were, but on closer inspection, you realise these shambling shapes are far from human. They are altogether something different._]

[_   Wrapped in the furs of beasts, their faces caught in terrible expressions like masks carved from wood and stone, they march endlessly in the twilight, buoyant with mischief and the slightest hint of danger._]

[_   They are the guards of winter, you realise, the sentinels who stand halfway between seasons._]

[_   They are old and they are new, spirits eternal, drawn to the bodies of men and women when their flesh has fallen away._]

[_   Like the world around you, they are both finite and eternally repeating._]

 

If, for some reason, I was forced into exile from North London, the valley of Lötschental in the Bernese Alps is where I would consider spending the rest of my days, growing a beard with ageing displeasure and only using technology fashioned prior to 1985.

 

Within the valley, there are numerous small towns; quiet places drenched in snow, hidden away from the world—the antithesis of every Greek holiday destination pandering to the tourism of the middle-class. 

 

And of course, in the Lötschental, between late January and early March, there are still monsters that roam the streets.

 

Like the Namahage of Akita Prefecture in Japan, and the Badalisc in the neighbouring southern central Alps, the [*Tschäggättä *]are festive caricatures of our primal origins, local gods expressive of the changing seasons.

 

In Blatten, where the first procession begins, the Tschäggättä appear before Candlemas to misbehave and scare children. Like the related Alpine traditions of the Krampus and Zwarte Piet, there is a fair amount of coloured soot cast around during proceedings, and more than a few trembling child hearts no doubt.

 

With masks carved of wood, the roles of these festive monsters are often played by young men of the nearby villages and towns, another rite of passage possibly tied to fertility celebrations.

 

Whilst the origins of these mysterious mountain visitors goes unrecorded by Swiss historians, there is certainly no doubt that there is certainly an emergent pattern in the folklore of the Alps, although sadly it may be one that we can never fully explain.

 

 

[* *]

 

Gauchito Gil

 

Your journey takes you far from the mountains and the cave; far from the dust ridden plains of the desert and towards the algarrobo trees of the forest.

[_   As you travel, you do not lift your head, knowing as you do that the spirits of the wilderness are tempting, and that amongst the finery and greenery of every wood and every forest, there is the danger of accidentally finding oneself tempted onto the path that leads to the faerie lands._]

[_   And so, when your journey presents you with the sight of a figure hanging upside down from a tree, you shudder but you do not investigate, no matter the significance of such a sight, of the holy imagery of a man upon a tree._]

[_   You keep moving, bowing your head at the solemn, lifeless stranger as you pass, and suppress a shudder, knowing that in this forest things both magical and terrible have taken place._]

 

Hung from a caldén tree on the 8th January, 1878—120 years before a significant birth—[*Gauchito Gil *]is one of the saints often collectively represented as an aspect of folk Catholicism, due to their lack of official acknowledgement by the Catholic Church.

 

Born as Antonio Mamerto Gil Núñez, Gil is conceived of as a sort of Robin Hood of recent Argentinian folklore, a farmhand who escaped his village following an affair with a married and wealthy woman, a man who also fought against the incursions of Paraguay, and also in the Argentine Civil War.

 

It is said that his despair with this later conflict was what eventually turned Gil into an outlaw, leading him into the forests where he supposedly ‘stole from the rich, and gave to the poor.’

 

The police of Gauchito Gil’s hometown however, still bore a grudge against him, having fitted him up as a robber following his affair as a pretext for previously attempting to arrest him. 

 

Deep in the forests and woodlands, they finally uncovered him, proclaimed him a deserter, and hanging him upside down from a tree as they slit his throat. 

 

Before his death, Gauchito Gil prophesied that the son of the police officer who cut his throat was suffering from a terminal condition and would die in a few days. The outlaw instructed the officer to pray to him and the child would be saved, yet of course the man responsible for his death did not believe him.

 

Upon his return to the village however, the officer soon discovered that his boy had indeed become stricken with a mysterious ailment, and finding no other recourse, in desperation he prayed to the memory of the outlaw.

 

The boy made a miraculous recovery, and the policeman spent the rest of his life proselytising about the power of the man who had been murdered, hanging like St. Peter from a tree.

 

Shrines began to appear to Gil, and in time, despite the condemnation of the Catholic Church, a minor cult emerged, venerating the sainted outlaw.

 

Whilst not traditionally thought of as a Christmas figure, the legend of Gauchito Gil appears in that sacred period between Christmas Eve and Candlemas, the holiest of inversions of usual conditions, making him another of the miraculous figures that so punctuate our celebration of the bleak mid-winter.

 

 

[* *]

 

St. Rupert of Salzburg

 

[As the forest parts, the years crawl back and flow forward, a stream heading to an infinite and final conclusion before restarting once more.
_   You walk, and you walk, and you walk, and as you travel further along the path, you find that the dirt and the grass become stone, that the forest transforms into a city, towers and spires rising up towards the crown of the sky._
_   There is no train of thought that you follow, there is no process that leads you on, only the constant movement of your feet and the wandering thoughts that move idly from reflection to reflection._
_   As the city grows older around you, you at last find yourself past the threshold of an ancient church, where before you, an elderly man in bishop’s mitre with saddened eyes awaits, his jowls heavy, his lips downturned._
_   “I have been waiting for some time for you,” he announces._
_   “Aye?” comes you answer. “And why would you have been waiting for me?”_
_   His saddened eyes seem to become moist._
_   “To tell you a story,” he replies, and from behind his back, he produces a great and worn book of yellowed pages._]

Within the High Alpine regions of Austria, the myth of Knecht Ruprecht—the brutal farmhand companion of St. Nicholas—is oft conflated with the story of St. Rupert of Salzburg. This association has resulted in a dichotomy of supposed facts attached to St. Rupert’s folkloric counterpart, a character sometimes aligned with devilish or fiendish origins, the term ‘Ruprehect’ being common in German for the Devil, and sometimes with an agenda more holy.

Over time, Ruprecht became synonymous with more monstrous traditions, both festive, i.e. the Krampus, and generally with such familiar spirits as the kobold. There was even a suggestion made by those famed cataloguers of folklore and faerie tale, the Brothers Grimm, that Knecht Ruprecht was the very same as the spritely Robin Goodfellow.

Yet the original St. Rupert is by and large regarded as a significant saint in the calendars of both the Catholic and Greek Orthodox traditions. Born into the bloodline of the Merovingian family and an uncle to St. Erentrude, who later followed her uncle’s example, took orders, and was installed by him as the first abbess of Nonnberg Abbey, Rupert of Salzburg is remembered as a missionary without peer, and as the founder of the city of Salzburg (following his exile from Worms after the non-Christian populace took offence to his message).

The association of this holy man with the rough, farmhand of the Knecht Ruprecht tradition however is a mysterious one, possibly only having arisen due to the similarity of their names, and the fact that both he and St. Nicholas were highly regarded saints, despite the centuries between them.

It is tempting to weave a darker narrative that links the brutality of Ruprecht and the holiness of Rupert, to dwell on the bitterness that must have resided in his breast following his exile from Worms, his purported death on Easter Sunday at the time when Christ is claimed to have risen again, and the reflection of his soul in that dark glass of the emptiness that follows after death.

We can talk of the town of Worms, of the ancient wyrm, the serpent of the Garden of Eden, of dark dealings and a return to the flesh; we can talk of possible redemption at the grace of St. Nicholas, and his travails through the history of medieval mythology and fantasy—yet none of these things are true, all but fancies of an author eager to tell a grander story, to link history and folklore, and etch in stone every possibility, every fantastical connexion.

Yet there is no truth in these speculations, there is simply the legend of a bishop who later became a saint, and through some mysterious process found himself soon associated with the increasing canon of Christmas mythology.

 

 

 

 

The Abbot of Unreason

[* *]

[You part the book, and within you find the description of another time, another place, of a man searching for his identity amongst the ghosts of the dead.
_   As your eyes move across the pages, the sad old Bishop drapes a robe over your shoulders, and his lips lift in a melancholy smile._
_   “Welcome back, Abbot,” he says calmly, gently._
_   You look up with a frown._
_   “Abbot?” you ask._
_   He nods sadly._
_   “You have been away some time, out in the wild, mad with grief, yet make no mistake; abbot is thine title, and one that thou hast been known by for a good many years now.”_
_   You stare at him, wild eyed and confused, the imagery of the book haunting you, that strange city and all those curiously spoken ghosts._
_   You dreamt you were someone else, dreamt your journey had not been through mountains and deserts, but rather across stone and path in the north west of a foreign city._
_   “An abbot of what?” you ask, a sudden shiver running down your spine._
_   The bishop with the sad eyes smiles at once, and for the first time there is a sense of cruelty in the manner in which he conducts himself, a rough and dangerous menace that you had not previously sensed._
_   “Why, of unreason, of course!” he beams._
_   And through the stained glass windows, light at last hits your face._]

Like the Boy Bishop and the Lord of Misrule, the Abbot of Unreason was an elected character who presided over the festivities of the Feast of Fools, his reign covering every farce and folly until the seriousness of Candlemas in February.

Native to Scotland, the festivities of the Abbot of Unreason were suppressed in 1555 with the Reformation in full swing in Britain and abroad. Yet prior to this, the festival was a staple of the New Year season, a throwback to the ancient pagan rituals of appeasing the winter spirits and the ancient Roman festivities of Saturnalia.

Typically, the head of such feasts, the root of our phrase ’king for a day,’ would be a child or idiot savant placed in authority over proceedings in a chaotic inversion of the natural structure of order. Such a figure would later be sacrificed to the gods to consecrate the offerings to the deities of winter, and ensure a prosperous harvest, yet by the time the feast had been adapted to Christian tastes, this practice was obviously obsolete.

Although later outlawed by the new puritan tastes that reshaped Scotland, the Abbot of Unreason is an interesting character in that he represents a typical working class mockery of the figures that hold sway over daily society. Like the Lord of Misrule and the Boy Bishop, the Abbot was the quintessential fool, an absurd character cruelly dressed in robes of office and given an authority he may not fully have understood. The custom was more cruel than empowering, the source of jests aimed not only at the ruling classes but also the poor subject who held court during the winter festival.

Throughout medieval literature and custom, there is a rich vein of mockery aimed solely at the office of Abbot, a cruelty and dislike that exists to such a degree that the figure almost becomes a caricature or archetype in many stories and tales of the time. This can be witnessed in illustrations depicting the Danse Macabre, and in the corruption depicted in organised religion following the Black Death in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Whilst the Reformation and the edicts of Puritanism may have deprived us of the Feast of Fools and its presiding titles of office, these archetypal characters are still very much present as part of the cultural and literary tradition of the English language.

In modern day Scotland, there is not much to remember the Abbot; however it is telling that there is still a traditional folk dance named after the character, a dance that continues to be practised today as part of the festive celebrations.

Although the Abbot of Unreason and his associative feast may be a thing of the past, it may indeed do us well to remember, as Shakespeare intimated, and Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam first stated in his work, the Praise of Folly, that we are all called upon to play different roles in life, and whilst sometimes we may rule as king, there will always be a time when we are also called upon to act the fool.

 

 

2015

 

 

St. Anastasia of Sirmium

 

In the dead of night —or the early hours of the morning—Molly Tildën suddenly remembered she had a deadline to meet. Dislodging the shape of her cat from the end of the bed, she padded gently in socks and faded Boston Bruins shirt into the front room, taking down the heavy and worn volume of the Black Freres Bestiary and laying it out upon the kitchen table; opening those faded and yellowed pages to a place in the middle where she began to read and think.

   

Martyred on 25th December in the 3rd Century, [*St. Anastasia of Sirmium *]was something of a renowned exorcist, a woman who dealt with what she perceived of as the daily struggle of demoniacs, and absolved them of complication. Far from being a monster herself, she is one of only seven women venerated in the Canon of the Mass, and one of the Great Martyrs of the Eastern Orthodox tradition.

 

Born the daughter of the Roman noble, Praetextatus, and a Christian woman, Fausta of Sirmium, whose only quality history records as having the grace to raise a daughter destined to sainthood, Anastasia[* *]was, according to Catholic myth, tutored by fellow saint, Chrysogonus, with whom she came to share a Feast Day in the Orthodox calendar. Early Christian tradition however is something like the morass of continuity espoused in modern day comic books, with tenuous explanations and apocryphal stories appended to events in order to explain apparent tradition. So as to whether there was indeed any connexion between Chrysogonus and Anastasia is a different matter. In the same way, it is unlikely that there was any connexion between Chrysogonus and Zoilus, patron saint of the Croatian city, Zadar, who apparently buried his body.

 

In a different world, another Middle Ages enjoying a Mithraic enlightenment, Anastasia, with her proficiency and patronage of potions, would have been considered an alchemist, a magician on par with the great Simon Magus. Confined to the constraints of a Christian history however, Anastasia’s gift with potions were limited to the mediocre administration of prayers apparently fashioned to counteract poisons and substance abuse, an expression of puritan abstinence before the variety of substance based intoxication became a truly global pastime. 

 

Again, in a different world, had Anastasia learnt from the devil, President Buer rather than Chrysogonus, then perhaps the cures she practiced would have been universal, rather than limited to those who shared her faith.

 

Beheaded during the reign of Diocletian, her body was interred in the house of Apollonia, which was later converted into a basilica in her honour.

 

Despite being commemorated in the second Mass of Christmas Day, Anastasia, whose name derives from the Greek word anastasis, meaning resurrection, never quite lived up to the example of the man she professed faith in, or the grandeur of her name. 

 

 

[* *]

 

Gnop-Keh

 

Turning the thick, yellowed pages, she passed by a martyred saint of antiquity, and found herself staring down at the grotesque image of a beast decorated in white fur standing upright, a single horn lifted to the heavens and four further limbs extending from its broad frame.

[_   Wearily, she rubbed sleep from her eyes, looking down at the picture, and wondering if creatures such as this had ever existed, or if they were simply the product of some author’s absurd imagination._]

[_   Whatever the case, the beast was of no relevance to her work. Hastily, not dwelling on the details, she turned the page._]

 

The Gnop-Keh are a race of yeti-like monsters who appeared in work penned by Clark Ashton Smith, Lin Carter, and, unsurprisingly, H.P. Lovecraft. 

 

Described in one of Lovecraft’s ghost-written tales—this time for the author, Hazel Heald—as 

the hairy myth-thing of the Greenland ice,’ the race were later portrayed as a source of worship and inspiration for the ostensibly human Gnophkehs, in the mythical Hyperborean era.

 

It’s hard to imagine who Lovecraft thought he might have been fooling with his ghost-written tales, as there is very little attempt to alter or adapt his signature flowery prose and pet themes, so it’s probably easier to just accept that he was incredibly generous with dishing out his work, and probably used any money garnered from the publication of such tales to supplement his meagre income.

 

For the most part, the elder Gnop-Keh race are represented as malevolent polar bears with a unicorn horn and a bunch of extra limbs, a move that seemingly set the precedent for a whole host of table-top gaming monsters-that-are-like-real-life-animals-but-aren’t templates. Make no mistake, the Gnop-Keh are less than distant cousins to those Owlbears made famous by Gary Gygax in Dungeons & Dragons.

 

The vicious Gnop-Keh, are sadly but a footnote in the Cthulhu Mythos that surrounds much of Lovecraft’s work. They are a vague detail, a suggestion that antiquity was daunting because there were exotic monsters once. Save for their preference for snowy climates and their role as pawns of the Great Old One, Ithaqua, we know nothing of them.

 

Whilst their human servitors were destroyed by the ushering in of the Ice Age by Ithaqua himself, the Gnop-Keh apparently still remain, hunting amidst the Arctic wasteland, serving their hoary deity despite his apparent indifference to them.

 

[* *]

 

Maman Brigitte

 

She turned the pages again and found herself confronted with the aspect of a fearsome woman, her long hair adorned with blood red flowers and the feathers of black roosters, her dark complexion adorned with paint, giving her a grotesque, funereal appearance.

[_   Molly felt her heart quicken, her fingers hovering over the ancient book, her eyes widening as she took in the details of the character depicted upon the pages; the haunting otherness of the woman’s appearance, the sigil dedicated with a heart, its downward tip meeting the spire of a rising pyramid._]

[_   She shivered, suddenly aware of the cold, conscious of the great antiquity of the book she held despite its modern bindings; the weird symbols that decorated its pages, the haunting profiles of the creatures and characters contained within._]

 [_  She began to wonder why she had taken on such an assignment, why she had actually agreed to take on a job that Véronique could have well done herself._]

[_   The thought of work added to her anxiety, and she hastily turned the pages again, never once sensing the shift in atmosphere about her._]

 

The history of St. Brigid is a complex one that overlaps and underpins the whole strata of folk Catholic syncretic beliefs. Conceived of during the intermingling of Haitian culture and American Catholicism, Maman Brigitte is another guise of Brigid, another way in which the saint’s personality cult has migrated over the centuries and transformed; stories growing up around a figure mired in myth and antiquity.

 

Often depicted as the wife of the loa of the crossroads, the famed Baron Samedi, Maman Brigitte is symbolically represented by the black rooster. Whilst seemingly a patron of vice[_, _]her personality is often described as having a fondness, like her husband, for profanity and rum, as well as a special liking for hot peppers. In her role as a loa though, she is incredibly less intimidating than Samedi, watching over gravestones marked appropriately with crosses, a task that reflects her association not only with St. Brigid, but also with that bastion of funereal mourning, Mary Magdalene herself.

 

Again, as with St. Brigid, she is a patron of fires also, a protector of the sacred flame, both symbolically and physically.

 

What is most striking about Brigitte however is that unlike her European counterpart, there is no dark side to the loa’s personality, no goat-like monstrous alter ego, the form of which is oft expressed in tales of the Perchta and other bestial aspects. 

 

For all her crassness and obscenity, Maman Brigitte remains a positive force within the liminal realms abandoned by the unknowable god.

 

This role leads to several other associations, not only Gnostic, but more traditionally established deities: for me, personally, in her calmness and watchfulness over the dead, it is hard not to see a reflection of the bodhisattva, Guanyin. 

 

Of all psychopomps and guides left in the wake of creation, if at the crossroads, in your last moment, it is Maman Brigitte who greets you, know that you could have done a lot worse.

 

[* *]

 

[*Kanbari nyūdō *]

 

She shuddered in the cold, feeling something close by, close enough to tear her eyes from the pages of the book and cause her to turn at the waist to survey the darkened surroundings of the room she inhabited.

[_   There was nothing there._]

[_   Yet above the bed, she noticed that the window was open despite her recollection of drawing it shut before attempting to sleep. The wind rose and her heart stopped; a glimpse of a shrouded figure in torn robes fleetingly seen outside her flat, its face disfigured and covered in thick, coarse hair._]

[_   She screamed, leaping up from the table and backing away in panic, the book toppling from the table to the floor._]

[_   And then there was silence, the only sound the heavy, beating of her heart, the gasp of her breath, the fading whisper of her scream._]

[_   Moments passed._]

[_   At the bathroom window, came the soft sound of fingernails taping against the glass, a thick tongue licking the moisture from the surface._]

 

Possibly one of the strangest characters surrounding the festivities of New Year, the Kanbari nyūdō is the revenant of a priest who watches those using the toilet on New Year’s Eve, and in doing so, brings bad luck in the coming year.

 

Derived from the 15th century Ming general, Kakutō—a fact highlighted by the wealth of information contained on Matthew Meyer’s Yokai site—Kanbari nyūdō first came to light in the famed volume, Gazu Hyakki Yagyō, by 18th century satirist and author, Toriyama Sekien, and was initially equated with the myth of an obscure, and possibly fictional, Chinese toilet god.

 

The details surrounding Kanbari nyūdō’s appearance are incredibly specific and vary in different regions in Japan. It is established that he appears on New Year’s Eve, but different towns and villages have different levels of specification, claiming that he will only appear between 1am and 3am, and that he needs to be invoked in order to appear—although, why anyone would want to invoke the ghost of a deviant priest whilst going through the motions of defecating is something that is probably best left unquestioned.

 

Likewise, the degree of Kanbari nyūdō’s contact with humans differs in each tale. Sometimes he might simply watch as his victim uses the toilet, other times he might reach out with his long tongue and lick the exposed back of their neck or worse, or even try to touch them.

 

Also possessing the curious gift of firing out a cuckoo from between his lips, it is tempting to think of this as some sort of example of this yokai’s vaguely human appearance, and the ease with which he might be able to pass as a member of our society when not engaged in his favourite pastime.

 

In truth however, the origin of this association is unknown. Despite this, it is considered a warning, an omen that should you, like Catalan figure of the Caganer in the nativity scene, be caught with your trowsers down, there could be dire consequences; should you hear the sound of the cuckoo, the motion in which you are engaged may not offer as much relief as you might expect.

 

If ever there was a festive B-Movie waiting to happen, then the story of the Kanbari nyūdō is it.

[* *]

 

[_*Faunus* _]

 

She kicked the book as she hurried past, the pages turning, the perverted monk replaced by a slender, mirthful depiction of a goat amidst the blossoms of spring and the last snows of winter.

[_   She paid no heed to it, rushing away from the window, pulling a kitchen knife free of the block on the Formica surface, tugging at her nightshirt with one hand as if modesty might save her._]

[_   Molly Tildën had seen this kind of film before; she knew the story that unfolded on celluloid, the narrative of the girl locked in what should have been a safe place, stalked by evil as it raged at the walls and windows beyond, searching for a way in._]

 [_  She knew the old fairy stories, knew what happened to girls who_] tried—and she knew that the only way to triumph was to subvert tradition.

[_   On the floor behind her, the goat-like figure sketched within the open book seemed to stir, an unseen breeze catching the leaves of the pages, lending her strength in her panic._]

[_   With one magnificent gesture, she reached out and took the door handle, pulling it wide open and thrusting the blade of the kitchen knife into the snow and chill beyond._]

 

Beneath the bowed branches of the forest, upon the hallowed fields and the endless plains, the hoary god, [*Faunus *]roams the natural world, a function of nature, once king of Arcadia.

 

Faunus, one of Roman civilisation’s most ancient deities, grew to be associated with a whole population of fertility deities, his very name eventually becoming the root of the word ‘faun,’ a catch-all race of tricksters and forest spirits equated loosely with the Greek satyrs.

 

Often in the company of a feminine spirit named Fauna, who appears alternately in the roles of wife, sister, and daughter, Faunus became later associated with Pan, taking on the aspect of the younger god as another of his many guises.

 

Named as Lupercus by the early church father, Justin Martyr, the priests of Faunus were described as dressing in the skins of goats and lashing out at others with belts of fur and flesh during the celebration of their god, a ritual that brings to mind the flailing chains of the Krampusse and the switches of twig and branch employed by many other festive figures.

 

A grandson of Saturn, Faunus was the son of the forest nymph, Marica, who, in some stories, is also said to have engaged in incestuous activity with her son, a relationship that resulted in Latinus, the figure whose association with Rome was apparently present in the unbroken connexion between the early king and the latter figure of Julius Caesar.

 

Celebrated both in mid-February and upon the 5th December, Faunus was a character synonymous with dancing and offerings of the forest, a suitable companion for the latter day fiends often found in the company of St. Nicholas, and a considerably more benevolent one to say the least!

 

[* *]

 

Bei Ji Xian Weng[* *]

 

The blade of the kitchen knife grazed the cold air, her reflection looking shaken and startled in the silver as the light caught its movement, the snow falling around her.

[_   The world outside was silent, and she was reduced to existing in one moment: a woman standing on her doorstep in an over-sized t-shirt and fluffy socks, trembling from adrenaline and cold._]

[_   Her heart continued to thunder in her chest, her eyes wild and panicked as she thought of every impossible and horrific outcome of this situation, every horror film she had ever watched, every terrible story she had been told as a child._]

[_   In the dark skies above, the Northern Star burnt impossibly bright, casting a halo of illumination about her head as the wind continued to whisper gently in the calm of the night._]

 

Bei Ji Xian Weng is one of the glorified immortals in Taoist mythology, well known as both a judge of the dead in the underworld, and as one aspect of the Northern Star that may possibly have illuminated the path upon which the Magi travelled to meet the infant child of Joseph and Mary.

 

Known in Japan as Hokuto Seikun, Bei Ji Xian Weng is a staple of Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei series, depicted often as an old man clad in robes of ice, his expression severe and fierce, his role something akin to the Three Fates of Greek mythology; the mother, the maiden, and the crone.

 

The 4th century historian, Gan Bao, records an episode in his Records of Searching for Spirits in which Bei Ji Xian Weng, accompanied by Nan Dou Xing Jun, his polar opposite—a young man in flaming robes in charge of the Southern Hemisphere—confront a young man who has ventured to the realms of the Taoist underworld, Diyu, in order to prolong his life and avoid his prescribed destiny. In this way, we see the immortals of Chinese mythology again as bureaucrats, figures who may be bargained with and bartered with in a way that contains none of the negative implications of the Western Faust myth explicit in the story of St. Theophilus the Penitent.

 

Renowned as a further representation of the north and the winter season, it is tempting to think that maybe the light provided by this distant general from above was intended to pave the way for a king, a warrior in the most anticipated sense; the role the messiah was assumed would manifest as by separatists such as that other famous contemporary of the carpenter’s son also named Jesus at birth, Barabbas.

 

[* *]

 

The Duke of Christmas Daisies[* *]

 

The morning after, she sat on the crowded subway train, the book heavy in her lap, wrapped up in paper and a grocery store bag. She tried not to think of her panic the night before, tried not to consider the imagined fright on her doorstep, the ignoble act of her panic turned slowly over in her mind.

[_   To distract herself, she began to look around the crowd that filled the subway car, her eyes alighting on a thin man with a bristling moustache and outdated paisley tie. Despite the crush of people around him, there was a curious sense of isolation in his aura, as if all the crowd were ghosts, or maybe that he himself was somewhere very, very far away._]

 [_  He turned his head, looking in her direction yet seeing right through her, and Molly felt a sudden chill, an anxiety that surprised and alarmed her._]

[_   The doors of the carriage opened, and without further comment, he turned and parted the crowd._]

 

This writer has spent more time in the company of Peter Pan this year than they care to really admit to.

 

The Duke of Christmas Daisies is one of those walk-on characters who features in J.M. Barrie’s early Pan work, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Appearing as an attendant at the court of Queen Mab, the Duke is characterised mostly by his cold heart and his inability to fall in love, despite the best effort of a surrounding pantheon of Cupids.

 

Known for holding grandiose balls in celebration of many a cause, the Duke seems to take very little pleasure in the joviality of these events, presiding over them, yet forever removed from them due to his distant disposition. 

 

It is only with the presentation of the fairy, Brownie that the Duke begins to feel any kind of affection, and this situation is soon ruined by the uproar caused by the presence of Maimie, a human child in the fairy court hoping to catch a glimpse of Peter Pan.

 

Whilst passion runs deep amongst the Fey folk, the Duke remains curiously removed, the ruler of a principality out of season, the tumult of his emotions impossible for human minds to truly conceive; his role is farce, a nobleman presiding over a flower associated with warmer climates stranded amidst the chill of midwinter.

 

It is interesting to consider the politics of Queen Mab’s court however, to speculate on the nation of Christmas Daisies, the people whom the Duke represents; it is tempting to see Kensington Gardens and its winter blossoms as a miniature Europe at the turn of the 20th century, with all the anxiety and interwoven drama such a scenario suggests.

 

Yet this is, of course, sadly not present in Barrie’s work, where I think, had this been an Oz book, there might have been at least the suggestion.

 

What we are left with is a man incapable of feeling affection for others, and a relationship that later begins based solely on physical attraction and status; meanwhile watching over all, reigns Mab, empress of chaos and mob rule.

 

But perhaps I’m reading too much into this.

 

I have, as previously stated, spent too much time with Peter Pan this year.

 

 

 

Chione

 

As she stepped from the subway, she felt the bitter wind greet her, the crush of snow beneath the faded rubber heels of her Chelsea boots as she bowed her head and struggled along, deftly working her way through the crowd, trying to keep her eyes on the sidewalk before her.

[_   From the windows of shops, she heard the chime of a Christmas card’s cheap EPROM chip playing the same three bars of music over and over again._]

[_   As she made her across the street, the blare of the traffic drowning the nasal call of that antique melody, she caught sight of a tall woman standing in the snow by the glass doors of her office building, her dark eyes watching her approach with seeming disinterest._]

[_   At once, Molly felt her heart quicken, a strange feeling of disorientation besetting her as she approached the revolving doors._]

[_   The closer she got, the heavier the snow seemed to fall._]

 

It’s hard not to think of the nymph, Chione, as a tragic figure, even if sources do not portray her as such.

 

Being the daughter of Boreas, the god of the north wind, and Oreithyia, a patron of mountain gales, her birth resulted from duplicity and rape, her father kidnapping and forcing himself upon her mother in a manner that seems to occur with regularity in the old Greek myths. 

 

Along with the winged Boreads, Calaïs, and Zetes, and the future wife of Phineus, king of Thrace, Cleopatra, Chione was one of four children resulting from the forcefulness of Boreas’s nature and the sorrow of Orithyia.

 

Chusing to stay with her rapist for whatever reasons, Orithyia raised her children and tutored them in the arts of her nature, taming their natural talents and assigning each a dominion—save for Cleopatra, whose sole documented fate seems to have been her marriage to the Thracian monarch.

 

Yet the true tragedy of Chione came later in life.

 

Often conceived of as a minor goddess, her very naming meaning ‘snow’ in Greek, Chione had an affair with Poseidon, god of the sea, in which she became pregnant with the future Thracian king and priest of Demeter, Eumolpos.

 

Fearing what her father’s reaction might be, she tossed the new born babe from the cliffs and into the oceans, where he was rescued by his father and given to his daughter, Benthesikyme to raise.

 

As far as we know, Boreas never discovered he had a grandson, and Chione continued to live in his domain—and possibly still does, if the old gods exist still in some far, remote corner.

 

It is easy to feel empathy for Chione in regards to this, to imagine her sadness as she gave her only born son unto the world, enduring eternal removal from him even as Erechtheus of Athens waged war upon the city he had founded.

 

In this there is a familiar theme, a child sacrificed to the chaos of the material world, a father who remains a jealous god, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate him. 

 

And so, as heavy snow is predicted for the coming months, take time to think of Chione, and consider those who suffer at the hands of people who purport to love them, and the importance of supporting such charities that work to help those who have experiences such terrible events.

 

You can make a donation to Victim Support at victimsupport.org.uk.

 

[* *]

 

[_*Nickar* _]

 

At her desk, amidst the bustle of the office, she found her attention drawn again to the book; to its yellowed pages, and arcane depictions.

[_   Molly was not someone who would have easily professed to a belief in magic. Looking down at the book with its depiction of a weird, almost-man with a leonine face and broad wings as it clung to the rocks amidst the churn of waves did nothing to force her to reconsider her stance._]

 [_  The voices of her co-workers resonated with dull intrusion on her work, the increasing anxiety of meeting her deadline before Christmas Eve stirring within her._]

[_   Lifting her head, she saw Véronique’s office, still empty regardless of the hour._]

 [_  She felt a chill run through her, her mind instinctively assuming the worst, even though she couldn’t quite bring herself to imagine what the worst was, or wonder why she should be so concerned with any misfortune her employer might have to endure._]

[_   Her eyes turned again towards the book, to the howling figure in the crashing waves._]

[_   It occurred to her that maybe the thing that she was looking at, the monstrous guise of the devil, and all these things in the book were little more than manifestations of differing states of human emotion._]

 

Appearing in Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy’s famed Dictionnaire Infernal, [*Nickar *]appears to have a convoluted history, the finer details of which have been lost during his journey from antiquity into the present day.

 

Though widely assumed to be a generic demon, a water spirit akin to the Scottish kelpies and the Greek sirens, Nickar is most commonly known as an emanation of the god, Odin, functioning in his role as a natural force of destruction.

 

Off the coast of the Isle of Rugen, Nickar tempts and torments fishermen, raising up great storms and tempests to make their work all the more difficult. His presence gives rise to the name of ‘Old Nick,’ commonly used by sailors in reference to the Devil.

 

He is not above drowning any unfortunate to fall foul of his ill will.

 

Yet there is an older form of Nickar present in the stories told about him, one that predates the association with Odin, in which he appears as a Saxon goddess, a feminine deity who rescues the drowning and the damned.

 

Thus, in light of the syncretic trends of other cultures, it is easy to imagine an evolution from the original Nickar goddess as she sheds her beauty and takes on the scales of the Leviathan or Tiamat, before finally shedding all trace of femininity and embracing at last a role as the destructive qualities of a jealous father god.

[* *]

 

The _][_*White Lady*

 

She turned the pages, quietly oblivious to the noise of the workplace, focusing solely on the images of the antique book before her.

[_   Abruptly, she stopped, her breath catching, her fingers trembling as one picture in particular caught her attention; a desolate snow field, a trinity of figures, all women, clad in white robes._]

[_   Moments passed, and still she found herself staring down at the image, unable to take her eyes from it, unable to fully parse what the significance of such an image was._]

[_   She had seen this kind of character in films before, sometimes as a figure of tragedy, other times as a figure of retribution._]

[_   What was it about the image that spoke so clearly to her now?_]

 

Up until recently, chances are that when you were younger, you had heard some kind of variation of a[* White Lady*] story.

 

In our post-Creepy Pasta _]society, with its haunted [_Pokémon ROMs, and alternate reality games, perhaps the idea of such a character may seem passé; even The Ring’s famed antagonist, Sadako, does a fair job of supplanting the White Lady.

 

First documented in her traditional aspect in medieval tales, these spectres—the often betrayed spirits of women who lost relatives during life, died in childbirth , or somehow fell afoul of manipulative lovers or loved ones—were a common enough presence in playground folklore, blossoming in urban myths, and the origins of the horror genre.

 

Yet she was not always such a malevolent force. The ‘white’ in their name derives from the German term, ‘Weisse Frauen,’ initially a poor translation of the Dutch, ‘Witte Wieven,’ meaning Wise Women. These powerful figures were once conceived of as being alven in nature, numbering amongst the white elfs that resided in Álfheim, ream of Freyr, and operated as proxies of Holda, whose festival took place around the dates Christmas later colonised, and who was originally equated with Diana as a leader of the Wild Hunt.

 

The white ladies, later equated with the maenads in the 17th century, numbered amongst Holda’s ‘army of women.’ In the folklore of the Czech Republic, the relationship between these white ladies and the Alpine festive traditions is driven home even further, with Perchta—Holda’s southern cousin—sharing a name with the daughter of a nobleman at Rožmberk Castle.

 

Though not widely considered to be a Christmas spirit, it is hard to disassociate the white ladies from Perchta and Holda, their appearance identical to that of the Schönperchten.

 

Therefore, if the Krampus has its Krampusse, and Zwarte Piet has his Zwarte Pieten, then maybe, the white ladies are literally the handmaidens of another deity, a goddess of spring and the underworld, the saints of a tradition as old as Persephone.

 

 

[* *]

 

Halubajski zvončari

 

At last, she turned the page, finding another image of a giant beast, its red tongue lolling in its open mouth, red eyes in a face of white fur, two horns raised to the skies above.

[_   She had stopped being surprised by the multitude of such creatures in the book, stop being alarmed by their appearance. It was almost, as the deadline crawled ever closer, and the festive season hung like a dark cloud above the whole office, as if such beasts had become matters of triviality to her._]

 [_  All Molly Tildën truly cared about was the matter of completing the assignment Véronique had foisted upon her._]

[_   If she had risen from her desk at the moment, she might have questioned the sound of bells in the snow outside, might have queried the sound of cries and yelps._]

[_   If she had risen from her desk, Molly Tildën might have noticed the world slipping away from her._]

[_   Instead, she remained focused on the book before her._]

 

The  Halubajski zvončari, their title meaning ‘bellmen’ in Croatian, are national treasures, a part of the broad tapestry of tradition that features such beasts as the Badalisc, the Nián, Margaret Schell, and her foolish husband, Peter.

 

As a central part of the Rijeka Carnival which takes places between January and March in the city of Rijeka and surrounding villages, the zvončari are colourful figures in striped shirts and white trowsers, their features covered in sheepskin as they ring the brass bells attached to their bačuka, large maces of ceremonial import.

 

The lower half of the costume might seem confusing given the totemic animal masks worn; however, the original story specifies that the beast-like appearance of these liminal figures is a disguise, a rouse employed by shepherds in order to scare away invading Tatars and Turks.

 

In truth, there may be no actual monster to which the zvončari correspond or represent; like the Roman hand puppet deity, Glycon, so famously worshiped by author and esteemed magician, Alan Moore, or Alan Measles, the famed teddy bear of artist, Grayson Perry, the zvončari may be little more than a symbol designed to ward off evil and grant protection.

 

Yet regardless of this, if these creatures are but a symbol, they are an effective one; beasts half-human, half-monster, wards against the invasion not only of hostile nation states, but of the chill winter light, the zvončari stand in the liminal lands between seasons, the rattle of their bells like the thrashing of Krampusse chains.

 

For the purposes of our wider canon of festive monstrosities, we shall consider them wardens, guardians, creatures tasked with both lighting the way and protecting the gates.

 

 

 

 

Chort

 

Conversation stopped abruptly.

[_   At first she didn’t realise, having deadened her ears to the noise of those who worked around her—and then at once, she became conscious of the ringing of bells, the rattling of chains._]

[_   Rising from her desk with trembling legs, she moved through the silent office, her colleagues long since having faded away, and felt again the same terror she had sensed on the previous night._]

 [_  With great trepidation, she pushed the palms of her hands against the glass, staring out at the snow-covered street, seeing below a terrible procession of creatures, some clad in white fur, others in black, others still burning with terrible flames._]

  [_ At her back, she did not register the clawing, scratching sound she had heard at the window in the darkness outside of her home._]

 

[*Chort *]appears in many cultures, many languages. In Polish, he is named Czart, in Turkey and Azerbaijan, he is called Çor, and as with many of these characters, the one often multiplies, becoming many. Like the Krampus and Zwarte Piet, Chort acquires disciples, a multitude of his ilk appearing in the pre-Islamic tales and traditions of Anatolia. 

 

Unlike other creatures of the divine hierarchy, the Chor are depicted as having free will and being capable of chusing between good and evil—though their choices are often telegraphed way ahead of them, with good Chor appearing as Ak-çor, covered in white fur, and bad Chor being depicted as Kara-çor, covered in black fur.

 

Yet what has Chort to do with the festive season, you may well be asking. Whilst diminutive and faun-like, in Slavic mythology, the pig-faced Chort is noted as the son of the evil god, Chernobog, and the death goddess, Mara, both of whom are related to traditions which have become so entwined with the Eastern European development of both Christmas and folk traditions in Christianity, that it seems a little unfair not to pay the Devil his due, so to speak, within our festive advent calendar.

 

Often depicted, as with many other lesser deities, as a lackey of the Prince of the Power of the Air, Chort’s place in the hierarchy of Hell is not assured nor properly defined. And yet, whilst he may be an insignificant spirit amongst the nine circles, he certainly is given considerably lip service on Earth. 

 

A vast number of curses and oaths in the Russian language contain Chort’s name, a level of fame comparable with such antique English phrases such as, “The Devil take you,” and the ever popular, “Go to Hell.”

 

What is fascinating about Chort and his ilk is the representation of that great Christian theme of duality.

 

Whilst equating a good nature with white fur, and a troublesome nature with dark fur might go against the natural English inclination to ascribe good luck to animals such as black cats, it is present in the more widely held American belief that black cats are evil, demonstrating just how diverse the culture sources of America’s own folklore are. 

 

To add further complication to the diversity of the Chor, sometimes they are depicted as being composed solely of fire, pillars of walking, talking flame that would make their ethereal nature more akin to that of the djinn.

 

As with many devils, what we see here is the possibility for Chort to be a teacher as well as a force of nature.

 

 

 

Holiday Darth Vader

 

She did not notice the book behind her as the air conditioning turned the pages, did not notice the depiction of black armour turned festive red, turned blood red; she did not notice the helm fashioned like a beetle, the dark eyes reflecting back the hail and frost.

[_   She had eyes only for the otherworldly procession before her, the cavalcade of beasts, and monsters—and in her heart she felt a strange yearning, a strange sense of needing to belong, needing to be somewhere other than where she was._]

[_   The scratching at the door at the far end of the office grew all the more intense, yet Molly Tildën failed utterly to register it._]

 

Today’s entry may strike you as a little absurd. Today’s entry may strike you as pure indulgence. You may be saying to yourself, this monster is not an Alpine tradition; this fantastic villain does not arise in the cacophony of festive verse and prose that have gradually calcified around this one story about a baby being born beneath the poverty line, surrounded by donkeys.

 

But in creating Star Wars, it was the desire of sometimes-film-maker George Lucas to create a mythology.

 

Like Tolkien, Lucas stole from the best, and with a healthy dose of Joseph Campbell, Kurosawa Akira, and Flash Gordon, fashioned three films that redefined what genre fiction was in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s… and three films that defined what genre fiction should not be in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s.

 

Holiday Darth Vader originated as a Christmas card fashioned by conceptual artist, Ralph McQuarrie, the man who helped design much of the aesthetic of that galaxy far, far away before Luke Skywalker was even called Luke Skywalker.

 

In 2005, Hasbro, keen to continue rolling out new Star Wars toys in what had, by then become something of a cottage industry, released a figure based on McQuarrie’s card, a sequel to previous renditions of other cards featuring C-3PO, R2-D2, Yoda, and the Jawas.

 

The story behind the card focuses on Life Day, an analogue of Christmas Day first introduced in the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special _]that gave us Chewbacca’s son, Lumpy, and the world of Kashyyyk, long before [_Revenge of the Sith made a hash of it.

 

Giving the Stormtroopers some much needed shore leave on the ice world of Hoth, the Dark Lord of the Sith, the one who will bring balance to the Force, decides to repaint the trademark black armour that essentially serves as his life support machine a vibrant shade of red.

 

That’s right. 

 

He paints his life support machine red.

 

Decorating the bridge of the Super Star Destroyer, Executor—Vader’s personal battle cruiser (“The biggest thing this side of the Death Star.”) —with fairy lights, holly and ivy, Vader watches on as the elite troops of the 501st Legion fashion festive ‘snowtroopers’ on the world down below and make merry.

 

Regardless of the intricate layers of the Star Wars Expanded Universe’s levels of canon, and the recent move to restructure continuity, this event for me is definitely a significant Star Wars moment.

 

If you’re going to see [_Star Wars Episode VII _]today, or if you were fortunate enough to have seen it last night, and find yourself suddenly possessed by the urge to start buying [_Star Wars _]toys again, then tracking down a Holiday Darth Vader might not be the worst decision you’ve ever made.

 

Search your feelings; you know it to be true.

 

 

 

 

The Almas

 

Amidst the procession through the falling snow, she saw countless men wrapped up in rich red fur. 

[_   At first, she mistook the fur for garments, and then suddenly, realised it was actually their own!_]

 [_  She turned away; suddenly revolted by the similarity between the creatures below and those who crowded the subway and the streets in everyday life, those she brushed shoulders with, those she breathed the same air as._]

  [_ It was only in turning away from the window that she registered the familiar scratching at the door, a terrible feeling exciting nothing but panic and dread._]

 [_  In the glass pane of the door, she saw a shadow._]

[_   This time, there was no kitchen knife within easy reach._]

 

The Almas—a singular word in Mongolian which is often used as a plural in English—is a mountainous wild man, a hypothetical missing link born out of the sightings of creatures residing in Central Asia. Popularised in folklore, the story of this mysterious race appears in tales throughout Russia, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan, and has become a familiar aspect of Turkish folklore.

 

Distinguished from the Yeti of the Himalayas, the Almas is closer to the European concept of the woodwose, a race of people who are [_like _]us, but not us at all. Considered a rich topic, it would appear that stories of the clash between the cultures of these people from the Caucasus Mountains and isolated villages have circulated for centuries.

 

Whilst initially reported in 1420 by the German travel writer, Johann Schiltberger, who first noted them in a Tibetan almanac of flora and fauna, the most famous story relating to our interaction with this other culture relates to a woman named Zana, captured in the mountains, and eventually assimilated into familial life in the village of T’khina in 1850.

 

The story goes that following her capture, she was wild and violent towards the people of the village, as would be expected. Later she began a relationship with a man, and became a mother, several times over.

 

Despite much speculation that her presence was evidence of not only the Almas, but also of some connexion between our culture and Neanderthal man, DNA tests conducted as late as 2013 and 2015 revealed Zana and her descendants to be of African origin, although it should be noted she did not correspond to any known group currently resided on the continent.

 

Another story from 1941, tells of the Red Army capturing a wild man in the mountains and executing him as a German spy when he failed to answer their questions—a situation somewhat saddening, especially considering Stalin’s intention to create “a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat,” and eventually raise an army of super half-man, half-ape warriors.

 

Apparently covered in red fur, the traditional image of the Almas is not entirely different from that of the red-pelted, sake drinking shōjō, a stock character included in the traditions of many Noh plays.

 

What makes the Almas fascinating is their almost credibility, the idea that they could be real. Because of this they are often used to prop up many wild associations—from Neanderthal man, to Bigfoot, to the satyrs of Greek myth. 

 

Yet despite all of this, it is more likely, following evidence relating to Zana’s DNA, that the mountains in-between nations are home to a number of entirely human tribes and cultures that, like the indigenous peoples of Peru, are reluctant to reach out and make contact with us—and with very good reason, it would seem, given the way in which we have previously conducted ourselves.

 

Türst

 

The sound of something baying, howling, half-dog, half-pig, echoed from the streets below; a call that resounded through the chill midwinter air, rattling the glass countless flights above it.

 [_  She paid no heed, scrabbling across the desks of the empty office, heart beating as the glass of the door shattered inwards, the wooden frame shredding, shattering at her feet._]

   As a monstrous figure bounded into the room, a flash of a torn, blood red cloak, the coarse fur of some ancient animal brushing against her, nostrils flaring at the stench of hay and excrement, Molly made herself small, barrelling past the beast in the enclosed space, and darting out into the hallway, her hands reaching out for the banisters of the stairwell.

[_   All the while, the howling cries continued to rise up from the street.   _]

 

Türst is a character of archaic fables, a fearful presence that reminds us of Odin, of Herne, of the terrible wrath of jealous, mountain deities.

 

Like so many of those we can compare him with, he has done his time as the leader of the Wild Hunt, a resplendent figure in green, a spirit accompanied by a pack of monstrous beasts, half-pig, half-dog. 

 

In addition to his role as a hunter, Türst is a central tenant of the Fasnacht celebrations in Switzerland, a figure that can be seen amongst the multitude of haunting masks of harlequins, animals, Napoleonic soldiers, the childishly spiteful Lausub, the warped visage of the Waggis.

 

Throughout the carnival he appears in his green velvet suit, clutching his staff, the complexion of his face likewise tinged green, framed by flowing grey hair.

 

Often accompanied by his wife Sträggele, a witch in her own right, whilst he is abroad, the doors of farm barns must be left open or he will terrify cattle and cause them to be unable to produce milk for the longest time.

 

Again, like the presence of the Krampusse and the Zwarte Pieten, the greatest curse of this famed hunter is his ability to turn those who cross him into members of his bestial pack, the transubstantiation of the human spirit into a mountain of monstrous flesh. 

 

Capable of also transforming into a hound himself, Türst is a malevolent force of nature, a hunter in the purest sense, indiscriminate of his prey. In a world where festivals are not symbolic, in a time when these figures were genuine threats, the presence of the howling wind and the distant baying of animals must have seemed a very real indication of his proximity.

 

An inverted Robin Hood, Türst cares little for whatever grace and peace you may associate with the natural world. 

 

Though never explicitly identified as one, make no mistake, Türst is a death god.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lieutenant 70

 

She threw her entire weight against the fire exit door, pushing out onto the snow covered street, the breath of the creature in its torn red rags at her back.

[_   With abandon, she threw herself into the crowd of bizarre animals and masked revellers, a carnival of absurdity, of monstrosity, a giant billboard advertising the recent refashioning, remaking of some cult puppet show above her head._]

[_   Had she looked up, she would have seen the soulless eyes of that wooden doll, dressed up in an Air Force uniform, sallow cheeked, a Pinocchio with aspirations of little more than a destiny washed ashore on a beach near Dieppe._]

[_   Instead, she pushed her way through the sweating, screaming mess of the crowd, her heart hammering in her chest, her eyes no longer capable of comprehending the absurdity and oddness of the world she had slipped into._]

 

Lieutenant 70 appears as a footnote in J.G. Ballard’s 1969 collection, The Atrocity Exhibition, a work mostly known for prefiguring later works by Ballard featuring the themes of arousal from automobile impacts, and the manner in which the images of film stars filter down through mass media in popular culture, reborn as avatars and symbols of psychological trauma.

 

The Atrocity Exhibition was written in the cut-up style pioneered by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, and every edition since 1990 comes with a pithy introduction from Burroughs himself, full of glowing praise and esoteric statements.

 

None of this may seem very festive to you, however what warrants Lieutenant 70 getting a mention here is that a.) [_The Atrocity Exhibition _]is currently the book I’m reading, and b.) the summation of the plot line for this pilot episode of a fictional TV series offers some absurd festive detailing.

 

On 25th December, 197-, at the Strategic Air Command base at Omaha, Nebraska, an extra pilot is discovered upon a landing H-bomber, amnesiac and disorientated, lacking completely in any means by which to verify his identity. 

 

The curious and unexpected pilot is X-rayed by US Air Force staff in a search of illicit bio-implants, and in doing so, the results are revealed to be little more than images of an unborn child dating back some thirty years or so, a sign that later draws the figure who inspired the show to be compared with the second coming of Christ in subsequent sections of the text.

 

The pilot swiftly vanishes from the base, leaving command officials to assume the whole deal was a hoax in which the pilot was playing Santa Claus between bases. Nothing more is revealed.

 

From the context of the language, it can be assumed that the show was intended to be a pastiche of the Gerry Anderson production, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, a puppet series depicting a superhuman hero resurrected from death by the ‘retro-metabolism’ of the antagonist native Martians known as the Mysterons.

 

Other than drawing comparisons between Captain Scarlet’s Judaeo-Christian subtext, a parallel also made by actor, Cy Grant, who played Lieutenant Green, and setting up the idea of a Messianic figure within the broader framework of The Atrocity Exhibition, there is no other substantial information regarding Lieutenant 70. It is, however, a commentary on the pop culture of the time that may be lost to future generations who forget how infatuated with the present Ballard was.

 

Had Lieutenant 70 been a real television series, it’s highly probable that the character’s relation to Christmas would have gone unremarked upon in future episodes—however, you can bet your back teeth that it would have been exactly the kind of fodder the BBC formerly liked to roll out as part of its holiday television schedule, and for that reason alone it’s possible even to be a little nostalgic for a TV show that never happened.

 

 

St. Theophilus the Penitent

 

As she pushed through the crowd, she noticed a terrible thing: the sound and din of the procession had fallen silent. In fact, as before, silence had crept up upon her without her knowledge.

  [_ The crowd now seemed to be little more than dolls, cardboard cut-outs stationed in the street, the cold eyes of the woman by the slowly revolving doors of her office building glaring out at her from a face of caricature, features decorating a shop mannequin._]

[_   The dull roar of the beast faded behind her, and all of a sudden she became aware of men and women carrying microphones, hefting heavy cameras on their shoulders, as, in the near distance, a bloated and spiteful looking man in a tall hat signed papers for another, his complexion green and sickly._]

 

Celebrated on the 4th February in the midst of the festival of Candlemas, St. Theophilus the Penitent is the root of the Faust myth. Without him, Goethe and Marlowe, as well as countless others would have been sorely lacking in material.

 

A 6th century priest of Adana in Cilicia, now in Turkey, Theophilus was so incensed by the local bishop’s seeming lack of appreciation of his skills, and of the fact that he was passed over for the position of archdeacon, that through the medium of a wizard, the clergyman entered into a pact with the Devil, renouncing both Christ and the Virgin Mary, and signing a contract with a pen dipped in his own blood.

 

In exchange for his new position and the wealth he enjoyed, Theophilus bartered away his soul.

 

Years later, full of alleged repentance, and grown fat upon his status and power, Theophilus became concerned for his immortal soul, and spent forty days fasting before he was granted with a vision of the Virgin Mary, who admonished but ultimately interceded on his behalf, an act that set a trend for centuries of developing Marian devotion, and side-stepped the proclamation of Christ in John 14:6 that “no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

 

After a further thirty days of fasting, Theophilus awoke with the damnable contract on his chest, which he then took to the bishop and confessed his sins. 

 

So joyous was Theophilus of the weight lifted from him, that he promptly dropped dead of happiness after confessing, his worldly wealth distributed amongst the poor.

 

In a later play by the 13th century writer, Rutebeuf, named[_ Le Miracle de Théophile_], the words used for summoning the Devil appear in a fictional language without translation, a series of possible entreaties and curses of a similar nature to the gan-gabbled _]cry of Pluto in Canto VII of Dante Alighieri’s [_Inferno, “Pape Satàn, pape Satàn aleppe!”

 

The unknown summons is as follows:

 

Bagahi laca bachahé,

Lamac cahi achabahé,

Karrelyos.

 

Lamac lamec bachalyos,

Cabahagi sabalyos,

Baryolas.

 

Lagozatha cabyolas,

Samahac et famyolas,

Harrahya.”

 

Invoked by an analogue of the first sultan of Egypt, Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb, here reduced to the role of petty sorcerer, it is interesting to note the medieval European, particularly French, fascination with depicting Islam as a form of devil worship, an apostate and inverted Christianity.

 

This can be seen again in the evolution of the term ‘Baphomet’ and all this came to represent.

 

Jean Bodel, another miracle play writer from the same time, used a similar unknown language in his work, Jeu de Saint Nicolas, the tale of a Muslim army that converts to Christianity through the supposed piety of Christian soldiers, and the intercession of St. Nicholas himself.

 

In this play, the Devil is summoned with the words:

 

Palas aron ozinomas

Baske bano tudan donas

Geheamel cla orlay

Berec hé pantaras tay.”

 

If the great work of John Dee and Edward Kelley was the quest for the Enochian language, the words spoken by the angels, and if Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel fashioned the famed Golem of Prague with words spoken in Hebrew by the Almighty at the dawn of time, then perhaps also Hell has an unholy tongue of summons and uncreation that can be glimpsed in these very early tales regarding the first opening of logistical networks between the two realms of the Prince of the Power of the Air.

 

 

Lord of Misrule

 

Her steps slowed, the panic fading away, her expression turning abruptly from fear and fright to quiet disinterest. The snow at her feet she had once believed so fully to be real was now revealed as nothing but set dressing.

[_   The scenario was fiction, the concept was fantasy; another festive film aimed at the lowest common denominator—_]another story about another girl haunted by a bestial presence stalking her friends and loved ones.

[_   Her steps slowed further, her head drooping, chin touching her chest—_]and then, all at once, her body went gently limp, the strings that held her limbs up going slack, the control mechanism that guided her lifted up, and then rested upon the wall of the very edge of the set. The cardboard figures of the crowd surrounded her, indifferent to her, unmoved, untouched.

[_   Above, a tall figure stepped away from the set, features ambiguous, wild darting eyes, a crown of holy and ivy._]

[_   One by one, the film of the cameras came to an end; one by one the lights began to wink slowly out._]

 [_  And in a world beyond anything Molly Tildën could understand, the Lord of Misrule slipped on their heavy winter coat, and closed the door of the studio behind them._]

 

When Edward VI died at Greenwich Palace at the tender age of 15, so, for the most part, passed also into history the tradition of the Lord of Misrule.

 

In many ways, the Lord of Misrule can be conceived of as part of the emerging trend of secularisation that blossomed fully in the later Enlightenment period. 

 

A popular tradition at both the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, the roots of this title lie with the figurehead of the early Feast of Fools, a Christian reconstruction of the Roman festivities of Saturnalia that the Council of Basel attempted to suppress in 1431.

 

Associated with the Scottish Abbot of Unreason, and the Catholic Church’s own Boy Bishop, the Lord of Misrule was a crowned head of festivities following the celebration of Christmas. As with these other traditions, the title was either drawn by lots or appointed to someone considered a fool, the possibility for cruelty within medieval and Tudor society regarding the appointment of their seasonal Lord being something that underpinned the celebration, a scenario which is demonstrated in Victor Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

 

Yet there is something wonderful about the title itself that conjures up further traditions in the English imagination; something that speaks to an idea so much older, an idea that reminds us of Queen Mab and her fairy court, that brings up the image of farce and reversal so popular in paintings by Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

 

And there is the faint suggestion that the Lord of Misrule may be something older, a presence descended from Herne, from Odin, from Dionysus, from the Holly King himself.

 

By the time of Edward VI’s rule, the Lord of Misrule had become a tradition which began with a coronation on Hallowe’en, and ended with Candlemas in early February; a festival of absurdity in which the religious context of life was turned on its head, a time when the profane became holy, and vice-versa. This concept is so close to the satanic inversion of typical Christian rite that it is amazing to consider it a previous staple of the expression of the Christian faith.

 

Not, of course, that it was without its many detractors.

 

Various attempts were made to ban both the Lord of Misrule, and the air of drunkenness and licentiousness that pervaded the feast, yet it was’‘t until the Reformation, and the later rise of Puritanism that the festival, along with many other tenets of Catholicism, was finally inhumed.

 

Yet whilst the Lord of Misrule may no longer provide a sanctioned counterpart to Christ’s rule during midwinter festivities, the spirit remains, and can be witnessed in a lovingly named homage released by Lush this year as both a bath bomb and a shower gel.

 

 

ALSO AVAILABLE

 

THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT EMILY, BY EMILY

by JACOB MILNESTEIN

 

 

 

 

 

T[he first time I saw her, like not in one of those god-awful videos they show endlessly on VH-1, was at my dad’s house during some big Thanksgiving celebration. My dad sort of came out of nowhere and told us we were going to be celebrating Thanksgiving this year and I was all like, _]what the hell have I got to be thankful for?[ But, as is kind of the case in our family, my questions were conveniently brushed aside._]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

amazon UK & US

 

 

 

#(~_n)v

 

 

 

 

 

 

“This has been a product of LABOUR!”


Monster Calendar

An exhaustive guide to seasonal creatures and phantasms, Monster Calendar is a bestiary of Christmas cruelty and festive foulness, a work culled from years of years of arm wrestling strange beasts, this is your ultimate survival guide to midwinter malady. Monster Calendar evolved from an attempt to enliven the traditional office environment of certain unwitting recipients. The idea initially began as a means of chronicling specific festive monsters related to the Christmas season, and later evolved into a means of recording the traditions of various other religions and cultures, some related, others not, to the festival we now enjoy during these cold winter months. In the tradition of many a medieval bestiary, this work is recommend for fans of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

  • ISBN: 9781311894199
  • Author: Jacob Milnestein
  • Published: 2015-12-18 20:21:16
  • Words: 66698
Monster Calendar Monster Calendar